The Junito Legacy: Those Burning Bright Thursday Night Lights

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You just can’t keep a chele chulo down. Junito, not surprisingly, opted for a visit to Santa Claus instead of going to a soccer try-out when last I wrote. With the size of today’s chocolates, can you really blame him? Luckily, as a seven year old, it didn’t mean the end of the line. In fact, his team held four different try-outs and invited players to attend as many as possible.

Junito missed two due to a high temperature, but did strap on his boots for the last one. I know that you already know the results, but indulge me. Just this once.

Junito’s playing career to this point had revolved around Northern Mexico and Nicaragua. Thus, I’ve noticed two patterns. (1) He has gravitated towards playing the ball on the carpet. (2) In our extensive and exhaustive park-soccer sessions, he’s turned into a bit of a poacher, always hanging on the defender’s back shoulder. Neither surprise me. Now that the temperature in Houston dips below fifty degrees Fahrenheit, we’ve been kicking around indoors and literally playing balls on the carpet. Also, the last defender in most park-soccer games is his mother, who literally carried Junito on her shoulder during long walking trips in Managua.

BUT how would his proclivities translate to a heterogeneous mix of premier Houston U8 talent, an assortment of anglos, Hispanics, and African-Americans? Could Junito adopt his game to the drop-and-counter so prevalent on these North American shores?

The answer was a yes-and-a-no. First, the highlights. Junito relished in the physical play. Despite being a year younger than other players, he got his hips from mother and used them to good effect. He is also quite proficient in English, and at one moment he decked a much taller opposing player and said “Sorry”, then smiled and said “Merry Christmas!” He also knocked in two goals, both off rebounds.

On the negative side, he’d never played in a a 8-a-side game on fields that big and with goals that large. He definitely had the zip and stamina, sprinting back to the field after a handful of water breaks. He eventually got moved to a holding midfielder position, not uncommon – the higher the level you attain, the further back you get. Also, Fernando Redondo and Claude Makelele both dutifully served Real in that capacity. The Nicaraguan Sammy Khedira? Not so bad, I thought.

In terms of the big picture, I know deep down that Junito needs to start getting games to learn where to stand on the field, but….but….but I’ve always been a Montessori method wanker who thinks Junito just may learn the most free from coaches and fields and limits, just kicking around a ball in a park with a friend. With the prospect of twice-a-week training and games on weekends, time to just kick a ball for fun will decrease.

Then, of course, there’s the fear of the super-intense other parents ruining the sport for their kid and mine. Before my men’s league games at the Dynamo training ground, the U17 and U15 academy teams train. The parents are generally nice and well-mannered, but every know and then you hear them mumbling about “No chance of a scholarship if not a starter!” and other whiny remarks.

Still, the most important thing was that Real Madrid’s future greatest player had fun and did not look out of his depth. Now, though, comes the hard part. The waiting. Over the next few days, Junito will learn his fate. Will he make the super-select team or….play for a slightly-less select team. We are all nervously biting our nails in anticipation. As should you.

“Merry Christmas!”

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