As reported in the News Journal two weeks ago, local high school soccer players Neel Patel (Whitley County) and Trey Cima (Corbin) recently traveled to Holland as members of the Kentucky Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program.

In this follow-up report, Patel and Cima talk about their experiences overseas, as well as how they plan on using the knowledge they gained in Holland to help them on the pitch back home.

“Everything is so different,” Patel said of the attitude towards the sport in Europe. “The atmosphere, and how people react to soccer… they just really love the sport there. It’s like how people love football or basketball here. It was amazing to see so many people devoted to it. It’s like a religion. I thought it was really beautiful, and I think I would probably live there if I could.”

Patel has traveled far away before, but this was his first time in Europe. He said that the trip was “life changing in every way,” because he learned lessons on and off the field that he feels like have made him a better player, and a better person.

As for the level of competition he saw while in Holland, Patel said, “When we played our games we were playing against kids our own age, but their skills were off the charts. They live soccer. It seems like they spend any free time they have kicking a ball.”

Patel and Cima also had the opportunity to watch the professional team Feyenoord Rotterdam play live, which Patel said was unlike anything he has witnessed before. “That was the first pro match I had ever been to,” he explained. “Everyone was going crazy. The whole stadium was shaking, and you couldn’t even sit down.”

Now that he is back home, Patel said that he is focusing on making straight A’s in school, and he is also working hard to be successful in his first season as a member of the Whitley County track and field team. He is eager, however, to share his newfound knowledge with his soccer teammates when preseason preparations begin later this summer.

Cima said of the trip, “Overall, it really was just an awesome experience. Getting to train with some of the best youth academy coaches in the world, and getting to play against some of the best youth teams in the world was really eye opening. To be able to go overseas and see the level of play in different countries was awesome.”

This was the farthest that Cima has ever been away from the United States, and he said that he couldn’t have asked for a better experience. “I was anxious about the plane ride, because I had never flown until then,” he explained. “But after that I settled down a little bit. Getting used to the environment over there made me a little nervous as well, but I got over it pretty quick.”

“Once we got out of the airport we took a bus from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, and just looking out the window was amazing. It’s kind of like here, with the farmlands and fields, but there were no mountains. It was all flat, and I saw a lot of windmills, which is something that you don’t see here.”

As for the training he received during the trip, Cima said, “We had our first training session about two days after we got there. It was early in the morning, and then we had a game that night against Feyenoord. We played Spartaan ’20 the next day, and every day from then on we also had one or two training sessions per day.”

Obviously, Cima and his teammates were kept busy with training and playing, but they also got to take in plenty of sights and sounds, including those at the professional matches that Patel spoke of before. As for his own impressions of those matches, Cima said, “It was just an incredible experience. I’ve been to multiple professional games in the U.S., but the atmosphere there was just unlike anything else. For the fans there, their club is their life. They eat, breathe and live their club. Just watching the celebrations during and after the game gave me goosebumps.”

Same as Patel, Cima is eager to put what he learned during his time in Holland into practice here at home. He said that he has high hopes for what he and his fellow Redhounds can accomplish during the remainder of his high school career, and he is hoping that all roads will lead to him one day playing in college.

Both Cima and Patel are just the latest examples of local soccer players that have received the opportunity to train abroad. Cima is in his last year of eligibility to travel with Kentucky Youth Soccer, but Patel could possibly get the chance to compete in another country again next year if the opportunity arises.

A highlight video of Kentucky Youth Soccer’s recent trip to Holland can be found here: