Sunday’s soccer game at Riverfront Park, replete with a chilly drizzle falling from slate gray skies, felt pretty familiar to Simon Collins and the under-12 boys team from the Leeds Schools Football Association.
The British team and their tour director came to Oro Valley last week to compete in the CDO Soccer Classic. Instead of the expected sunshine, they found something different.
“I’ve talked to some people and they said there hasn’t been weather like this for a year and a half or something, so I think it must be us,” smiled Collins.
It wasn’t only the weather that made the Englishmen stop and think – the American version of Europe’s favorite pastime defied expectations, as Leeds advanced to the title game before losing to the local 97 Oro club, 3-2.
“The game in America is more direct, not as many sideways passes,” said Leeds coach Matthew Keddie. “I think it has to do with your sports, in American football you don’t play backwards.”
The athletic nature of American youth also surprised the visitors.
“A lot of your players are fitter than ours,” said Keddie. “You have the facilities to train more, the infrastructure in England is not the same.”
“The American game has developed, it’s getting closer and closer to what we have in England,” said Keddie.
Keddie was also excited to share something beyond sport with his players.
“Experiencing other people’s cultures is what’s interesting,” said Keddie.
“I teach at a school in inner-city Leeds, but it’s a poor school, these kids never get to go on holiday more than 20 miles, let alone go to America,” he added. “I’ve been to Cross Middle School and Copper Creek Elementary, and everyone has been really welcoming.”
The bond created through a love of soccer helped Keddie’s team through some unexpected bumps in the road.
“The families have been superb, one of our boys is really ill, but the family just kept him there,” said Keddie. “They’ve been amazing.”
The team was also able to experience some more American-style sports, attending an ice hockey game, as well as the University of Arizona’s football game against Arizona State University.
“Just a bit of rivalry there,” said Keddie. “Rivalry to match Manchester United and Manchester City.”
Driving to these events was an eye-opener for the team, said Keddie.
“It’s just so spread out,” he said with a smile. “To get anywhere good it seems like you have to drive for two hours.”
Driving time aside, coming across the pond was a great experience, said director Simon Collins of United Soccer Tours.
“I mean, how often do you get to play on a pitch (field) with mountain views?” he said.
Steve Wallace, coach of the CDO club, hopes to see more teams come from elsewhere to Southern Arizona. “It’s handy for us,” said Wallace, who pointed out the Leeds players were in Phoenix as well. “If we get more exposure, we get more teams from overseas.”
Keddie doesn’t know when he’ll get to return to America, but says he’s taking at least one big impression back to England with him.
“I certainly think the girls in America are better than our girls,” he said. “There’s no difference between girls and boys here – they both grow up with a soccer ball at their feet.
“It’s pretty cool.”