Soccer camp comes to town

A Spanish soccer club that has produced several sporting stars brought its magic to the Glendale Sports Complex this week, drawing 140 young soccer players to the first-ever FC Barcelona-sponsored camp in the United States.

Participants, some of whom traveled from as far as Oregon and Colorado to participate, were put through a week’s worth of training that mirrored that of the players at the elite Spanish club.

“We basically brought Barcelona to L.A. for one week,” said camp director Frank Bagheri.

Players focused on developing technique, including passing and maintaining ball possession in tight spaces — a skill that has made Barcelona players some of the most famous and highly paid in the world.

“Whether you are 6 years old or part of the first team, the training is exactly the same,” Bagheri said of the club’s practice methods. “As they move up to the academy and to the first team, nothing changes, only the stadium, the atmosphere.”

Camp participants also were treated to a dose of FC Barcelona’s strict code of conduct.

“It is mandated that every player’s shirt is tucked in from the time they get here until the end,” Bagheri said. “When they walk in, they have to say hello to their coaches, shake their hands. When they leave, they have to shake hands, say goodbye.”

The biggest difference between American youth players and those in other countries is passion and patience, said Franc Carbó, a coach with Barcelona’s youth development program. Americans tend to focus on moving the ball toward the goal, even if that means forcing bad passes.

“Sometimes they think a playback is a bad decision,” said Carbó. “We believe that when we pass back, it is the best option to find a better option.”

Americans bring a tremendous amount of size and athleticism to the field, Carbó said, and can often out-muscle their European counterparts.

But size is secondary when it comes to scouting young players with serious potential, he said.

“They need to be really intelligent, with high technical skills,” Carbó said. “Then, if they are also fast, that is the perfect combination.”

The host club’s storied history wasn’t lost on the young camp participants, many of who said it was their favorite professional team.

“I like the drills, I think they really teach us a lot,” said 13-year-old Sevan Garibian. “I have learned a lot of simple but effective things.”

Soccer’s popularity in the United States still lags behind the passion it evokes in Europe and elsewhere, Bagheri said, but it is the nation’s No. 1 youth sport. And more Americans are playing in top leagues around the world, he added.

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