From museums to breathtaking sites, there's plenty to do in England. For the boys on the AYSO Region 120 under-12 travel soccer team, they know the game is big in that country. That's enough to get them excited.
But, as the boys from Costa Mesa board their plane today, some taking a flight for the first time, they'll think of the most thrilling part about their upcoming trip.
"We are looking forward to everything, but we are looking forward to the tournament mostly," said Kobe Wood, an 11-year-old Costa Mesa resident on the team. "We are looking forward to the tournament because that's the whole reason we're going."
FC Mesa, the travel team made up of 15 players and two coaches, will spend a week in England, competing in the Arsenal tournament. The boys say they are grateful for the opportunity to play together outside of the U.S. They realize all the work that went into making it happen, as expenses have been paid for their trip through fundraising. A community came together to help the boys create everlasting memories.
Plans for the trip have been over a year in the making. Last year in May, Coach Brett Clement received word that his team was selected to take the trip.
Players were selected and parents took on the task of helping the team raise the money. Schedules were adjusted, fireworks booths were manned throughout the day and night, parents and players were pushed to the limit to help make the trip happen.
"It's been a fantastic journey for everybody," Clement said. "When I learned that we would be the travel team, I thought: what a fantastic thing. We chose England. England has such a history of soccer. I thought it would be a great place to experience real soccer … I hope they experience something they'll never ever be able to forget. My vision is for them to experience something they might never experience again."
Just as Wood said, the boys are going to England to compete. But don't misunderstand him. He also said they want to have fun.
Part of that fun is taking in a friendly at Wembley Stadium, Manchester United versus Chelsea. After the tournament is over next week, they'll take another trip to Paris for more tourist-type experiences.
Throughout this week, they'll have a tour guide as they venture through England during their off-time from the tournament. And, it's not just the boys making the trip. Parents and family members are also going, a total of 42 in the party. The Hendrix family, with their player, Cooper, left earlier for England for an extended vacation and will meet the team there.
Dozens upon dozens of photos will be taken. As if that's not enough for a keepsake, Shaun Rowe will be around to write about the experiences. Rowe, father of player Avery Rowe, will be keeping a blog of the trip.
"This is a great opportunity for these kids," Shaun Rowe said. "For us it's great since we haven't traveled outside of the country. It's really a trip of a lifetime for all of them. But it's not just the trip, it's also the chance to play soccer there."
Ever since the boys realized they were headed to England, they worked together to make it happen. They knew something special could happen. During the fundraising process and the practices leading up to the tournament, the players united.
Sure, there were some headaches, but now that the kids are on their way, there are happy times for AYSO Region 120.
The team and the players' parents helped raise a little more than $40,000, FC Mesa assistant coach Kevin Wood said. The cost is roughly $2,500 per player, he said, plus another $300 for food expenses. Whatever remaining costs were provided by AYSO Region 120, as there is a specific budget allocated for travel teams such as FC Mesa.
"There have been a tremendous amount of hours that the parents have invested; there has been some sweat equity," Kevin Wood said. "This is a really special deal. Once we are at the airport we know we will be going there as a team. Everything we do we'll do as a team. I think it's going to be fascinating for them."
The boys are considered the best players in their age group for AYSO Region 120 in Costa Mesa. Naturally, the players have a competitive mindset, yet they get along just fine, Clement said.
They have sleepovers, go to birthday parties together and battle against each other in video games.
Oh yeah, they also practice together. They know the importance of playing as a team. They saw the evidence earlier this week, when they beat a local club soccer team, 7-2, during a scrimmage as they continued to prepare for the tournament in England.
"The kids are all friends," Clement said. "They love each other. It's really cool. It's like a perfect group of boys. They are all friends."
The majority of the players on FC Mesa have never been to England, which makes the trip for them even more exciting. That's certainly the case for Kobe Wood, Cade Clement and Cameron Curet.
Kobe and Cade said they are "psyched," about going.
Curet let out a big shout in celebration last year when he found out he was going to England.
"I was happy and excited that we get to go out of the country and play against other teams," Curet said. "I know it's going to be fun, to do things I've never done before."
Coach Brett Clement
Assistant Kevin Wood