As the summer sun started to emblazon Friedman Field at St. Francis High, 17 young athletes sat in classroom No. SF101, the coolly air-conditioned room of Golden Knights soccer coach Glen Appels.
Though summer vacation was still in full force, Appels walked up and down the rows of seats and handed out college-ruled lined paper and pens to each student, before asking the athletes a question.
“What does MLS stand for?” Appels asked.
In its third decade with the Golden Knights program, the St. Francis Summer Soccer Camp started its five-day session and as the day progressed, with the outside temperature soaring, the participants in Appels’ classroom answered the question correctly: Major League Soccer.
While Appels gave a brief history of the American soccer league to more than half of the camp-goers, 12 younger camp participants played a six-on-six scrimmage in the gym across the way.
Divided up into a yellow team and a black team, the younger group rotated through five-minute games to practice ball control in an in-game experience.
“The idea is that they have some fun and learn along the way,” Appels said. “For the incoming freshman, it’s nice because they get to meet a lot of guys and maybe get a sense of where they stand compared to the other incoming guys with a chance of meeting the coaches.”
The first day of the camp saw 32 attendants who started out the morning with a basic dribbling exercise, attempting to keep the ball away from the five coaches who helped conduct the session’s drills.
“It’s fun to watch because we get a chance to see all the kids who are going to come to school here already,” Appels said. “The guys that we know, we get to see how they progress. For the young ones, it’s a chance to see what they do well and what they don’t. One of the huge things they notice during the day is that their dominant foot is very good compared to their non-dominant foot. As high school players, we like to see them become good with both feet.”
With the campers all warmed up, the participants, who’s age ranged from 8-17, were divided into groups of four to try out four different skills tests that involved dribbling, passing and shooting.
The camp-goers controlled the ball around cones, attempted shots on goal inside and outside the penalty areas and tried ground passes and lob passes into targeted areas.
Those skills are the focus points for 14-year-old Glendale native Matthew Martellino, who was attending his first camp at St. Francis.
“I want to improve on my passing, shooting, dribbling and juggling — everything,” said Martellino, who plans on attending St. Francis and playing for the Golden Knights. “We’ll accomplish that working hard all the time. It’s only five days, but if you just put in the work every single minute, you’ll be able to get stuff done and improve.”
Among the coaches running the drills is 2013 St. Francis graduate and junior varsity coach Luca Coppola. The former Golden Knights goalkeeper has helped orchestrate the camp every summer since he graduated and said the camp is a great way to help develop players.
“This is where I start seeing the younger guys, especially the ones that are coming in and even the ones that are two or three years away [from attending St. Francis],” Coppola said. “It’s fun to be able to see the future.”
“I was here the year before I played freshman year. Coach Appels saw me here and, thankfully, he decided to put me on varsity my freshman year. I look back at it sometimes and I questioned why he did that because I was a little pipsqueak compared to all these big guys.”