‘He has some great gifts’
The same legs that have been moving Durham's Lucas del Rosario up and down soccer fields ever since he was 5 have taken him overseas, where he is competing against the best of the best among players his age.
Del Rosario is in Spain with 17 others on an elite squad of 14-and-under American kids. He's the only player from North Carolina on that team, and he's representing the Triangle.
Capital Area Soccer League.
Youth director Paul Forster said it was no surprise to him when he found out that del Rosario would be taking his game across the water to Europe.
“I may be biased because I’m his coach, but I think you’re going to find it very difficult to find a player that’s better than him, more so than just the Triangle, certainly our state," Forster said. "I think he’s probably one of the top players in our state in his age. There’s not much of a doubt from me on that one.”
del Rosario scored his team's first goal in its opening match of the 2013 id2 National Selection International Tour, which is put on by US Club Soccer.
Scoring is something del Rosario certainly can do, id2 National Selection coach Gerry McKeown said.
“He has got some great gifts,” McKeown said. “Can he add to it, and can he be a guy that is so intense and so focused and a guy who becomes a fierce competitor to add to all of the other skill sets that he has?” McKeown asked. “Because athletically, he’s fine; technically, he’s gifted.
“He’s got a lot of real gifts that don’t come easy, and he has a way with them in terms of attacking that’s unusual for American players.”
McKeown said del Rosario needs to work on his defense and sharpen his mental approach to the game, and this European tour that includes competition against both FC Barcelona's and Real Madrid's youth teams will offer no shortage of opportunities for that.
“Their best academy players against our players at the same age," is how McKeown described it. "Certainly two of the best clubs in the world for youth development, so this is as good a test as we can get. I don’t know of any other venue that we can go to and get the same level of a game.
“It’s a very high-level group of players that are going to see what it looks like at the next level.”
An attacking midfielder in the CASL program, del Rosario (5-9, 128) is playing the striker position for id2 National Selection. He said the tough competition in Spain would help him get better both defensively and mentally.
“Sometimes I can, like, hide from the game," del Rosario said. "I think I should just come to the ball more.”
Keep in mind that del Rosario, a student at St. Thomas More Catholic School in Chapel Hill, is 13, so some of the mental toughness he's lacking will come as he gets older, Forster said. del Rosario's continued involvement with CASL will help toward that end, he said.
CASL, in fact, has prepared del Rosario for what he's up against in Spain, and the young man ideally will return to the Triangle motivated to be an even better player after seeing how he stacks up against elite talent, Forster said.
US Club Soccer and Nike are sponsoring id2 National Selection's trip to Spain.
The id2 Program is an Olympic Development Program approved by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Soccer Federation, and it aims to identify and develop players for inclusion in national-team programs. There is no charge for id2 National Selection participants, who get to soak in the culture of Spain when they're not training and competing.
The id2 National Selection International Tour is in its fourth year, with past trips to Spain, England and Scotland, the Netherlands and Germany.
In other words, del Rosario's inclusion with id2 amounts to a big deal, and he said another of his challenges will be to return to the states still hungry and humble when the tour ends March 11.
“I’ve got to make sure that I don’t get that to my head and stop working hard," del Rosario said. "I’ve always got to keep working hard and help other kids excel at their game.”