THOMAS — Four Snake River soccer players will spend the month of July in Europe.
Michael Smith, Andy Garcia, Adam Ortiz and Cooper Peterson have earned positions on the United Soccer Club. They will play "friendlies" through Italy and then compete in tournaments in Sweden and Denmark.
The United Soccer Club is organized just for this [European] trip, said United coach Chris Renaldo.
All four have played together since they were in grade school. They are on the Snake River High School soccer team as well the Black Snakes Elite team in Blackfoot.
"They have competed and challenged each other since they were kids," said Cindy Smith, Michael's step-mother.
The four leave today for Coeur d'Alene to meet and get to know the rest of the United team. The plan is to play in a couple games in Coeur d'Alene.
The United team leaves for Rome, Italy, July 7.
In Italy, they will spend time working out the kinks, playing as a team and sightseeing, Renaldo said.
After playing "friendlies" through Italy, the team will compete in the Gothia Cup in Sweden.
"This is the largest youth soccer tournament in the world," said Michael Smith. "There are 1,600 participants from 60 nations."
"It's organized kind of like March Madness," Smith said. "There's the bracket round, then quarterfinals, semifinals and then the finals."
Then it's off to Denmark to compete in the Dana Cup, the third largest youth tournament. (The second largest tourney is in the United States.)
The positions the players will play are rather a work in progress, said Coach Renaldo. "It depends on the chemistry in the group."
Team members are chosen on the recommendation of their coaches, he said.
Coach Jeff Robbins from Blackfoot deserves a lot of credit, said Cindy Smith. He has really taught these boys how to play soccer.
"I try to get around to watch the kids play in Idaho, Washington and Montana," Renaldo said. "I watched the Snake River players at last year's state tournament.
"It's really their coach who sees them day in and day out who makes the recommendation." he said.
"Soccer is very much a team sport," the coach said. "In Europe, these kids will develop their skills and learn to play as a unit."
"It's so magical to watch what these kids go through, not just playing soccer, but the whole experience," Renaldo said.
The Snake River four will play on the United U-18 (under 18-years-old) team. U-18 is made up of 12 players—11 on the field with one substitute.
"These guys aren't traveling to Europe to sit on a bench," the coach said. "In 27 days, they will play 10 to 15 games, depending on how they do [in the tournaments]."
Ten of the U-18 players are from Idaho. One player is from Spokane, Wash.
Traveling with the U-18 team are 15 players on the U-14 (under 14-year-old) team. The teams will be accompanied by 20 adults.
Coach Renaldo is from St. Maries, Idaho. In his day job, he is a land surveyor. This is his sixth year coaching a United team. He travels to Europe to be with these young players every other year.