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Monday, December 29, 2014

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King David Stars play Goliaths of Toronto soccer

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Martin Scott

If you thought playing soccer in the blustery, bone-chilling conditions of November was tough, then December ought to be – a lot warmer.

That’s when they move the game indoors, so instead of bundling up against the cold, the boys and girls of the King David Stars Academy will continue their soccer training in ideal conditions. Soccer, it turns out, is something like hockey in that it has become a 12-month sport, with aficionados heading indoors when the weather does not permit them to play outside.

Inside, they play futsal, a brand of soccer developed in Latin America that features a smaller ball. “It’s lightning quick, it teaches close control, skill and quick thinking,” said Martin Scott, who co-owns the Academy. “Playing that in the winter makes the outdoor game so much better.”

The 60 members of the academy’s “elite” section – there are another 40 in the “incubator,” the development division – will play in the Driftwood Hispanic Soccer League (DHSL). That’s one of the city’s most competitive circuits, which has produced a number of professional players, Scott said. The King David Stars Academy will field four teams, ranging in age from four- and five-year-olds to 10- and 11-year-olds.

The boys and girls generally really are Davids compared to the Goliaths they compete against, said Scott, who operated the Maccabi Toronto soccer program for 32 years. Opponents are usually much bigger and sometimes older, as the academy often puts younger players with older ones to speed their development, and where their skills warrant, he said.

Going into the winter season, Scott believes he has reason for optimism. At the tail end of the outdoor season, playing in the SAAC (Soccer Academy Alliance Canada), his 2004 boys (the date refers to their year of birth) outperformed all other academy teams. They were the best among Toronto teams in a season-ending tournament and lost in a penalty shootout to a loaded guest team from outside the city, Scott said.

Scott attributes the success of the academy teams to the challenging training regimen and the quality coaching provided. His partner, Boris Krimus, is the head coach.

Krimus played professionally in Israel and Russia in both countries’ elite leagues. A former defender, he specializes in the technical aspects of the game – everything from breathing properly during runs to striking the ball most effectively, Scott said.

Other coaches include Raphael Fell, who played for North York Hearts, and Dejan Vugrincic, a former Yugoslav professional.

The kids in the academy’s elite program practise four times a week and play one game, Scott said. SAAC was flexible enough to schedule the academy’s games on Sunday, allowing Orthodox players to participate, he added.

The academy approach differs from the one practised by more traditional club teams, Scott continued. “This model has more focus on developing the individual player, not necessarily on the team.”

Academy players play a more possession game, something like the Spanish world champions, who feature a lot of quick, short passes.

“We try to focus on developing the most difficult position, the creative midfielder,” he said. “The first thing we do is train kids to pass the ball and change their focus to passing, moving and doing something else.”

Popularized by the Dutch team, Ajax, the academy approach was transplanted to Barcelona by 1970s Dutch superstar Johan Cruyff.

It’s that style that permits the sometimes undersized King David teams to get the better of their bigger opponents, Scott said.

 

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