Sport: Young Nelson stars enjoy superb US trip
Jet-lagged and a little jaded after arriving home from a month-long expedition to the United States, the five young Nelsonians became markedly animated when recounting the top moments of their Tornadoes tour.
Zac Muir, Max Winterton, Sam Wilson, James Peters and Matt Tod-Smith arrived back in Nelson late last week from a Wellington Tornadoes tour that took them from New Orleans to Nevada.
The group was unanimous in saying they would recommend the experience to any other aspiring players, though this years' hopefuls will have to be quick.
The not-for-profit Wellington Tornadoes academy has been running for five years. Tours usually run across the Christmas and New Year period into January, however this year a tour is being planned for July and will be run annually from that date thereafter.
Given the short turnaround, Tornadoes head coach Guy Smith said trials would likely be mid-February. He said any young guns from Nelson, aged up to 16, should watch the Wellington Tornadoes website for details or get in touch to register their interest.
"We had eight or nine kids trial from Nelson and we took those five, they were great kids," Smith said. "They are decent players, Nelson is a real hotbed of football."
Nelson's contingent was happy to extol the value of the trip. They played in some of the top American junior tournaments, like the Disney Showcase in Florida and Vegas Cup in Nevada, as well as playing against American Major League Soccer academy teams like the Houston Dynamos, Real Salt Lake, Deportivo Chivas and LA Galaxy.
One of the best moments on tour for the team was a well-earned 2-0 win over the LA Galaxy.
The highlights and individual experience of each of these young men came from outside the boundaries of results. They were about scale, culture, excess and potential.
Tod-Smith said his favourite aspect came in Orlando at the first tournament, the Disney Showcase.
"We were playing at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and it was like, massive," Tod-Smith said. "It had like 30 pitches and had basketball courts everywhere."
Muir said one of the experiences he will treasure was to experience life in another society, while being billeted out with an American family at Huntington Beach in California.
"We really got to experience American culture and spend a week with the families, hanging out with them and fitting into their day-to-day-life," Muir said. "It was the weird and wonderful stuff, everything was just bigger." Peters said his wow moment came when the team travelled to the iconic eye of the American dream, the Las Vegas Strip.
"It was pretty awesome going to Las Vegas," Peters said. "It was huge. All the buildings were so big there. Just the atmosphere and all the people, I really enjoyed that."
Wilson was most impressed with what America had to offer on the pitch, an important factor as the tour introduces young Kiwis to the US college football system. "Just being able to see the talent over in America, football-wise was really cool," Wilson said. "It showed you where to work and strive for. Being in an environment like that would extend you so much.
"[When playing] we tried not to get intimidated by their game, just try to play our game. If they were better than us, we would try to learn lessons from what they do."
Lessons were learned on and off the pitch, as well. And, when saying they would tell their peers to give this, or something similar a try, it was from a rounded viewpoint. "It's not just about the football, it was just, you know, a real life experience," Muir said.