Alfred Edmonds’ spring break involved no sun, no sand and very little in the way of relaxation.
He didn’t want it any other way.
Edmonds, a junior at Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, was one of four members of the San Jose Earthquakes Youth Academy who joined the first team on their trip to London last week.
“It’s been great – a great experience,” Edmonds said. “The only thing that could be better was the weather.”
Edmonds, Travis Pillon, Samuel Engs and Nick Lima practiced primarily with their counterparts from the Tottenham Hotspur Under-16 side during the week. They took in an English Premier League match between Chelsea and Everton and had one day off for sightseeing, but otherwise it was a business trip for the quartet – which fit perfectly with the lessons the Americans were learning.
“The first day there, it’s like a slap in the face,” said Pillon, a sophomore at Oakland’s Head-Royce. “The ball’s just pinging around. … Everyone’s playing for their life. You don’t find that in America, people playing for their lives. It was really daunting.”
Working with a group of players who are all fixed on the same goal – signing a full-time professional contract – was revealing for the Quakes youths.
“It’s just the everyday approach these kids take to football,” said Engs, a junior at College Prep in Oakland. “The game means everything to them. Guys in line, fighting over little things. Just the whole attitude towards the game. It pays off in the intensity.”
That intensity set something of a high bar, but the Americans were able to compensate with their own physical gifts. Pillon noted that his speed allowed him to make some dangerous runs forward his spot at right back.
“I feel that our technical ability isn’t there because they’re playing a lot more than we are during the week,” said Lima, a high school sophomore in Castro Valley, Calif. “They do this every day and we have to worry about school, but I feel our speed and strength [were equal to the Tottenham players].”
Each of the players had a moment in which they felt like they were on a par with their British counterparts – a heady experience, given the level of talent involved.
“One drill we did, on the second or third day, we were training with the [Tottenham] reserves, and a couple of guys had gotten appearances with the first team,” Engs said. “There was one small-sided pattern drill, pinging the ball around, and the ball moving so fast and buzzing around [that] I felt like I was with them in that drill. It was an amazing realization.”
To Pillon, the biggest lesson wasn’t physical at all, but purely mental.
“They talk about imagination, being imaginative on the ball,” Pillon said. “It’s ridiculous. I’m starting to get two to three plays ahead of the game, but these kids are five and six [plays ahead].”
Although the players got a chance to shop for Tottenham gear at the team store, the motivation the trip provided might be the most important souvenir the players bring back.
“The attention to detail, being around these guys, it’s amazing,” Engs said. “They just opened our eyes to how hard they’re working, and what you need to do.
“When you’re with better players, your weaknesses are exposed. This experience has shown me how to be a better player and how to get there.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes