Twelve young soccer players from the suburbs are about to gain international experience during a tournament next week in Barcelona, Spain -- not far from where the city's vaunted professional team challenges its opponents.
Players from Bartlett, Carol Stream, Glendale Heights, Glen Ellyn, Long Grove, Naperville and other Chicago-area communities are among 48 chosen to compete in the FC Barcelona Escola International Tournament, hosted by the training arm of the Spanish city's professional soccer club.
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Teams are guaranteed at least seven games in the tournament, which begins April 14 and takes place on a field not far from Camp Nou, FC Barcelona's stadium.
Keith Conley of Carol Stream, whose 13-year-old son Ethan will be competing in the tournament, said being a "long golf shot" away from the home pitch of a well-regarded professional club will be just part of the excitement.
"It's a pretty incredible opportunity for him as a 13-year-old to not only go to another country and be there at what is the center of world for soccer right now, but to also play against teams from all over the world," Conley said.
Suburban players will face teams from countries such as Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, India, Japan, Singapore and Spain. The young athletes were chosen from a field of 480 participants in the first FC Barcelona Escola Camp Chicago last summer in Schaumburg, according to Marcel Bombonato, director of Kaptiva Sports, which runs camps for FC Barcelona Escola in Florida and Illinois.
Ethan thinks the coaches chose players whose abilities match FC Barcelona's playing style, in which teammates "pass and move and don't keep the ball for a long time."
"My favorite part of soccer is possessing the ball and passing it back and fourth," says Ethan, who plays center midfield.
Thomas Kirchen of Bartlett, Konrad Kosuge of Glendale Heights, Alexander Olechowski of Glen Ellyn, Konrad Kozlowski of Long Grove, and Cade Hagan and Erin Sweda of Naperville also will be competing in Spain next week. Erin, 13, is the only girl chosen from the Chicago area, and one of three girls among the 48 U.S. players heading to the tournament, said her father, Ken Sweda.
"Since she started getting serious about it, I've never looked at her as a girl soccer player," Sweda said. "You can play just as well no matter what gender you are."
The tournament is creating a "once-in-a-lifetime" travel opportunity for the Sweda family: both of Erin's parents and her younger sister will be going on the six-day trip. Ethan and his father will be travel buddies and are looking forward to touring the Camp Nou stadium and possibly arranging training sessions with youth clubs in Spain and France.
"I think if I keep working hard," Ethan says, "I'll probably be able to play at the top level."