The Earthquakes U16s Academy team is just one of eight clubs currently participating in the highly competitive Liga BBVA Bancomer Internacional tournament in Mexico City. Playing against the likes of C.F. Pachuca and Pumas in this once in a lifetime tournament, we caught up with head coach Paul Holocher to discuss the tournament’s background, what it means to play against these historic Mexican clubs and how the team has bonded off the field.
sjearthquakes.com: Three games into Liga BBVA Bancomer Interacional, what are your thoughts on the tournament so far?
Paul Holocher: “It’s been incredible. This is an amazing tournament. It’s the best tournament I’ve ever been a part of. From the set-up to the professionalism to the competition, it’s just been fantastic.”
SJEQ: Talk about the tournament’s background and how the academy was invited to participate alongside these other big-name clubs.
PH: “This tournament is a joint venture between both Liga MX and MLS. We were approached to go to this tournament about two and a half months ago. It came up on us really quickly. It was normally supposed to be a tournament for the 2000s so this is a new group and an overall new experience with this team. We had three different trainings before we left for this trip so it’s a new group and a very young group mixed with 2000 and 2001 players. We’ve played Club TIjuana, C. F. Pachuca, who were champions last year, the Galaxy, the Philadelphia Union, FC Dallas on Tuesday and we still have Pumas and Santos Laguna. There’s been a lot of games, but it’s been everything we hoped for.”
SJEQ: You’ve faced the majority of these MLS clubs before, but what does it mean for the development of the Quakes players to face off against these clubs from Mexico?
PH: “It’s so important to play the international matches to see that international criteria of players. First of all, the teams that we’re mainly playing against are made up of 2000 players so our guys are playing up a year. The Mexican teams are bigger, they’re stronger, but they’re also of an incredible quality. The one thing that stands out to me is their strengths on the ball and how they hold the ball under pressure. Their finishing in the final phases of the game is really good. You can see that these kids will be the future pros here. It’s a tournament that these guys have waited for all year. These teams are also three months into their season so they’re sharper, fitter and more cohesive as a team.”
SJEQ: What are you looking to achieve at this tournament?
PH: “Each game has been an opportunity for us to develop our stuff. Our objective as the newest team and the youngest team, we want to develop our players and the way we want to play. I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve seen to this point. I’m not really looking at the results: I’m looking at how we’re playing and each game we’re getting better.”
SJEQ: Obviously, it’s important to develop as a club on the pitch, but what have you and your players done off the pitch to build team camaraderie during this trip?
PH: “That’s been a big part of this trip for us because we’ve been spending all day together. We eat every meal together, we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, we have the opportunity to go over film each night so we do a tactical session with film and we’ve also done some really cool team building stuff as well. We went to the pyramids at Teotihuacan the other day. It was awesome. We went there as a team and climbed the pyramids. Later in the week, we’re going to go into Mexico City to do some sight seeing so it has been a lot of fun stuff and team building.”
SJEQ: What does being apart of this tournament say about the direction of the Quakes Academy?
PH: “This is just another special opportunity that comes along with being a part of the Quakes Academy. This is a partnership with MLS and Liga MX so there aren’t any outside clubs that are partaking in this tournament. Our players are now going to see some of the highest level of players in the world for their age. They’ve competed against it now. They know they can compete at this level and also that there is a different level that they should be aspiring for. It really is a life-changing event.”