Raising Soccer's Profile

Published 4:15 pm Thursday, March 28, 2013

FARMVILLE – Every May, the best prep soccer teams from the area receive a cold reminder that the Southside-Central area of Virginia has a lot of work to do if it wants to compete with the best areas of the state.

It usually comes in the form of a lopsided loss in the first round of regional tournament play, when teams that have lost two, maybe three, times all year consider it a victory to take their opponent a full 80 minutes and avoid having the game end in a slaughter rule.

Unlike other sports, like football, boys and girls basketball or baseball and softball, where the best team from the area has a chance at making a run in the playoffs, postseason soccer at the high school level is pretty much a one-and-done ordeal.

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There are several people who have put in a lot of time and effort in developing the sport in the area, and though there is still a lot of work to be done, their efforts are starting to pay off.

One such individual is Longwood associate head coach Eduardo de Souza.

de Souza, who arrived at Longwood in 2009, has been an active force in helping the area improve its soccer profile.

A native of Porto Alegre, Brazil, de Sousa brings a wealth of experience to both Longwood and the local youth soccer movement.

“I've seen a lot of improvement in the time I've been here, and what we're seeing now is a result of a lot of hard work by countless individuals,” said de Sousa, who has coached the Heart of Virginia Soccer Club's U-12 program. “Participation numbers are up, and by expanding our focus to the entire region, we can put forth a program that can compete against teams from other parts of the state.”

Prior to his arrival in Farmville, de Sousa served as a coach at the Schulz Academy in Boca Raton, FL, and was an assistant coach at Mercer University.

Last summer, de Souza coached at the Zico Academy in Orlando, FL, where he worked with Arthur “Zico” Antunes Coimbra, a world-renown soccer player who led Brazil to three World Cup Championships and scored more than 800 goals in his professional career.

“I got to see some of the best youth soccer players in the country, and was able to pick up some things that we can apply here,” said de Sousa. “We are also using our soccer players [at Longwood] as teachers. We have our camps and our outreach programs, but one thing that I think helps just as well as the camps is our having two college programs close-by. There is some very good soccer being played around here.

“You can train and train, but to actively watch a soccer match, and one played at a pretty high level, you can learn a lot there, as well.”

“I think by expanding our reach through groups like Heart of Virginia to surrounding counties has helped us tremendously,” said Longwood men's head soccer coach Jon Atkinson, who has also been instrumental in the youth soccer development in the region. “We are in a small area and sometimes that makes it harder to grow, but by expanding our reach to communities a little further out, like South Boston, we've been able to have more of a select team. Better players means a better structure and more growth. We've seen that over the last couple of years.”

Soccer starts and ends with the feet. de Sousa, who resides in Farmville with his wife, Larissa and infant daughter, Livia, sees the introduction of futsal (think indoor soccer, but played with a heavier ball) as a way to help.

“We've been working with it indoors for a little while now. It's a heavier ball that doesn't bounce, so when the kids are playing, they won't mis-kick the ball as much,” said deSousa. “It's a different game, but it helps develop their mechanics and footwork that they can carry over to soccer. Kids like to kick the ball against the wall and watch it bounce up. That doesn't teach much.”

“Futsal is a phenomenon that's starting to pour in from South America,” said Atkinson. “It allows more kids to touch the ball. I think we begin to lose kids over time, because it's easy to get into a style that doesn't stress footwork, and there are kids that run up and down the field, but don't touch the ball. They lose interest, in part, because they feel that they aren't contributing.”

“I'd love to start a futsal league,” said de Sousa. “I'd like to start it with our four and five-year-olds. Being an indoor sport, it's something we can run in the winter, and not be affected by the weather. It's also pretty cheap. We need just one ball.

“It's something different, but if we can teach the kids the basic skills of futsal, we can transfer that knowledge over to soccer. Who knows, we may even create an area where futsal is extremely popular. Either way, it can go a long way in strengthening our soccer programs down the road.”

Soccer is gaining a foothold in Southside Virginia, but Atkinson says he has to be careful not to get ahead of himself.

“It's going to take some time,” said Atkinson. “We're smaller than DC or other areas, and they've had a head start on us, but it's something we've to got nurture. We're not going to get there over night, but we have a structure we can be proud of, and one that still has a lot of potential for growth.”