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Hailey Lightning Heads to the Crème de la Crème of the Soccer World
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Sunday, June 4, 2023
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

When Manchester City beat Manchester United Saturday in an unforgettable FA Cup Final, 21 soccer players from the Wood River Valley were cheering loudly.

The boys—U-16 players on the Hailey Lightning Football Club—can’t wait to see the be-all, end-all trophy given to the victor up close and personal.

The boys have a rare invitation to visit the Manchester City soccer program for 10 days beginning June 22. They’ll spend four days training under some of the world’s best soccer coaches at the Manchester City training facilities. And they’ll play soccer with top local teams.

In addition, they will get behind-the-scenes tours of the billion-dollar Manchester City soccer training facility and the training facilities for Manchester United and Liverpool. Oh, and they will visit a castle, tour Chester, which looks like it’s out of a Harry Potter movie and sink their teeth into England’s famed fish and chips.

Team player Chris Arenas got a sneak preview a month ago when he traveled with Idaho’s state soccer team. He got to see the hypoxic chamber where players can run at altitude or in extreme temperatures, a hydro treadmill with underwater cameras to monitor a player’s movement and a hydro-therapy area for treating injures. He also saw the complex’s 16.5 pitches sporting different types of artificial turf so the team can prepare for away games.

“The facilities are amazing—lots of nice equipment, a good recovery machine,” he said. “They have high-tech ice packs, and they run drills we’ve never heard of that help with positioning and shooting. Watching them is so cool Their players are so quick, they compete at a different level. And, when they play, the crowd energy is like it is for our Super Bowl.”

The Hailey Lightning is considered one of the top five teams in Idaho. They’ve won the Directors Cup both times they’ve vied for it, outscoring opponents 8-2 in four games in this year’s U16 Boys Gold Division Directors Cup.

The kids practice two day a week and sometimes get together on their own for a third practice. They travel out of the valley to play games on weekends.

Last year the team amassed the third most points of any team in Idaho and made it to the semifinals of the invitation-only Far West Presidents Cup in Phoenix.

“We don’t have 200 boys to choose from for our team, like the Boise teams do,” said Coach Larry Schwartz. “And we let our players play other sports besides soccer, whereas some teams do not.”

In fact, two of the boys competed at the USASA Freeski Nationals in March, two are black belt martial artists and one just won a doubles state tennis title.

“Since there are 21 boys on the team, we have the flexibility to let them miss games on occasion,” said  Schwartz.

Goaltender Victor Hernandez, who has played goalie with the team for several years, said the Lightning team is unique: “We’re really not like your average team because we have been together so long and we’ve bonded really well. Now we want to see England soccer level what makes them go and see how we stack up against their teams.”

Henry Page is one of several boys who has been with Lightning since kindergarten.

”We’ve stuck with it because it’s what we love to do. I figure soccer can get me through life, that I can play it in college. And I’m looking forward to seeing the training facilities and getting to train with the coaches. They won the Premier League so I’m going to try to analyze how they win every game. I know that they work very hard and they’re very fast.”

Elliott Boiron, who spent 16 years in France where, he said, soccer is every bit as big as it is in England, concurred: “I can’t wait to see the high level of soccer in England and the soccer facilities.”

The trip to England materialized overnight when a friend of Schwartz’s introduced him to a friend who works for the company that owns Man City.  Within 24 hours, Schwartz had an email inviting the team to  come train and play.

“They do this for very few teams,” said Schwartz. “This is an opportunity for our boys to train with the best coaches in the world at the best training facility in the world. The Manchester team took care of flights, hotel reservations. But we still need $4,000 per player to get there—if we can raise enough to meet a $25,000 match, we’ll have it covered.”

Although separated by the so-called Big Pond, the Hailey team uses a lot of the same tactical approaches that Manchester City does, said Coach Weylin Barrett.

“We’ve always had a ton of potential but sometimes our games don’t reflect how good we are. But our  guys have used challenging moments to grow. And they’re so supportive of one another.”

Barrett is encouraging the boys to think about how they can make the trip count for more than training with some of the world’s best coaches.

“We’re telling the boys: This is going to be a great adventure, but what more can it be? What can we share with younger kids and peers? What can we share with our community to inspire it?” he said. “Our community has gifted them a great deal of money to make this a possibility. We owe them something in return. This is an investment in these 21 guys, but it’s also an investment in the community.”

Quintin Buoncristiani said he already has learned life skills from soccer that he can apply off the field.

“Soccer has been a great way to build a work ethic,” he said. “It was so cool when we won the Directors Cup because the crowd was so excited and happy for us—and we did it. We got a little overconfident but the coaches brought us back to earth.”

Team members are Chris Arenas, Sylas Barrett, Elliot Boiron, Quintin Buoncristiani, Ryder Green, Alejandro Gutierrez, Andres Hernandez, Henry Page, Dominic Seig, Reidar Slotten, Jack Tierney, Mateo de la Torre, Zack Torres, Maicol Quinones and Jackson Wallace. Coaches are Nana Akyen, Weylin Barrett and Larry Schwartz.

STAY TUNED: Tim Brown will provide video updates at www.haileyfootballclub.com. Learn more about the trip, including how to donate, at www.haileyfootballclub.com.

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