TORONTO - Ajax, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Benfica, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Porto. Heady company indeed.
But that's whom coach Gianni Cimini's Toronto FC Academy under-12 team will be rubbing shoulders with next week. The young side leaves Sunday for Spain and the Arousa Futbol 7 tournament.
The TFC squad qualified for the European event by winning the inaugural U-12 tournament at the Generation Adidas Cup last month in Frisco, Texas.
Toronto defeated FC Dallas in the final of the competition, which featured teams from eight MLS academies, Mexican club Queretaro FC and Club America USA, the U.S.-based affiliate of the Mexican powerhouse.
Toronto captain Lowell Wright hoisted the trophy in Texas while striker Nakye (pronounced Nack-eye) Greenidge-Duncan was named tournament MVP and Christian Calabro was chosen top goalie.
"They were very special at the tournament," said Cimini. "They came together at the right time and they just got better and better."
Cimini is taking 15 players to Spain. Back home, they train three or four times a week, as well as playing a game.
"There's a lot of special players in this group," he said.
The U-12 success has been celebrated at all levels of the clubs. Former academy head Greg Vanney, now in charge of the MLS team, talked with pride of the young side's accomplishments before practice Friday.
The TFC youngsters are in a group with Ajax, Barcelona, Deportivo La Coruna and local side E.D. Xuventude Oroso at the 20-team tournament. The top two in each group advance.
It's the second year for the under-12 team at the Toronto academy, whose youngest team is under-10.
The under-12 team was put together in January, drawn from an initial pool of some 150 kids. The boys are chosen via open tryouts, scouting and leads from technical directors at other youth clubs.
The teams played 30-minute, seven-versus-seven games on a smaller field with a smaller goal.
"The idea behind the 7-versus-7 game is that young players should be playing on the size of a field that is relative to their physical capacity," said Cimini. "It ends up helping them think better ... It allows them to experience the game much more often throughout the match in individual terms. It really is a plus for youth development, in my opinion."
They progress to a normal-sized field at age 13.
Cimini's says after taking on North America, his young charges are excited to see how they stack up against the world's best.
Where they will be six or seven years down the road is the big question.
Cimini says the academy goal is to make sure they are in the right environment and "given the best opportunities to fulfil their dreams."
"And a lot of these players their dream is to become professional athletes. But we know at the same time that that can't be the case for every single player. We'll do our best to make sure that all of them are successful in life."
Learning teamwork, social skills, setting goals and other experiences can be transferred to other endeavours, he added.
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