Two soccer teams go Dutch, blend sport, culture on trip - HOWARD AT PLAY

PLAYING AROUND

May 07, 2000|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

If you're a typical kid, spring break probably meant stuff like hanging out at the mall or visiting grandmom and granddad, then Uncle Bob and Aunt Susan. Maybe you hit the Smithsonian or Harborplace.

Saah Johnson, Steve Vogt, Eric and Brian Hughes and teammates on two Columbia boys soccer travel teams did the Netherlands.

Some even played street ball and shot an Adidas TV commercial with Zinedine Zidane. Yeah, that Zinedine Zidane, the International Soccer Player of the Year in 1998, star of Italy's Juventus pro team and the French national team.

The boys and Zizou, as fans call him, met in Amsterdam for a morning. He didn't say a lot, but everyone had fun. The ad is to air during the Euro 2000 national team championships next month, a Big Deal on the Continent.

Oh, did we mention Fabien Barthez? Yeah, that Fabien Barthez, the bald, scary -- and not just in countenance -- goalkeeper in the nets when France won the 1998 World Cup. He played street ball, too, up against a wall.

The boys made Dutch national television, Devin Jackson and Sammy Sorensen being interviewed about the shoot. Holland's biggest newspaper also reported on the ad and the boys.

The 48-member Columbia United Classic and Crush entourage -- 30 players, two nonplaying brothers, coaches, 12 fathers and four mothers -- lingered longer than planned at Anne Frank's house. They also checked out brush strokes by Vincent Van Gogh and Rembrandt that are rarely seen outside Holland.

The boys played real ball, too, eight games. Each got beaten by youth teams at Ajax, one of pro soccer's most fabled clubs. But Ajax, a huge Amsterdam organization with lavish quarters, manicured fields and one of Europe's flashiest stadiums, recruits worldwide for its prototype youth program and beats everybody.

The Columbia Crush (Under-14s) won their other three games, beating one U-16 club, 2-1, and whomping a younger club, 6-0. The U-12s went 1-2-1 (actually 2-2, players insisted in unison Tuesday at Clarksville Middle School, if you count all the penalty kicks they and their opponents indulged in after the tie). The other three opponents for each team were youth squads from three amateur clubs.

The U-12s' Dutch-born coach, John Bouman, set up the trip, helped by his brother, Robert, in Holland and the U-14s' Dutch-born coach, J J Schmaal. Bouman, who captained Indiana (Pa.) University to the 1978 NCAA Division III tournament, has taught economics at Howard Community College for 17 years and coached Glenelg's varsity boys seven years before switching to youth ball with sons Mike, 11, and Danny, 14, who also made the trip.

Both coaches returned with new ideas for skill-building and renewed appreciation for the quality of Dutch fields, including those of the three amateur clubs the teams played. By comparison, Bouman said, fields in this country are so rough they're impairing players' ability to boost their substantial skills.

The boys learned new lessons about soccer, more than they can articulate, no doubt. One was "play wide, always play wide," said the U-12s' Mike Hassett, who also remembered "the teams were hard," meaning rough in play. And Ajax, especially, excelled at switching play from side to side, with even a few 10-year-olds putting 40-yard passes on target.

The week, said Bob Stoker, one of the parents who went, "was just a nice blend of culture and sports. And everywhere we went, we met a lot of Dutch people who were so kind to us."

Oh, one more lesson: Buttered bread with Dutch chocolate sprinkles makes a terrific snack.

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