Soccer feature 1

Pictured are five of the six Fort Bend County players who will travel to the Netherlands for the Robin van Persie U9 tournament on June 11-12 as part of a RISE Houston travel team. (Contributed photo)

Sugar Land resident Vaios Papandreou has watched his son, 8-year-old Alexander, develop from the moment he touched a soccer ball two years ago. But he said he never quite envisioned his development moving as fast as it has.

That development has led to Alexander being part of a team from Houston that is being invited to play in an international tournament hosted by a former international soccer star next month. Papandreou’s son and five others from Fort Bend County play with a RISE Houston Soccer Club travel team that will take part in the Robin van Persie U9 Tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands on June 11-12.

Van Persie, a former Dutch star whose playing career with Manchester United, Arsenal and more spanned 18 seasons, first created the tournament in his home country back in 2015.

“I feel excited about it, and very happy that I get to go,” Alexander said Friday.

It is unusual for an amateur team to be selected, according to Papandreou, who said the tournament is by invite-only and that this is the first time an American U9 squad has been invited. RISE, which is based in Houston but operates campuses around the area including in Sugar Land and Missouri City, is a partner with international club Feyenoord, according to Papandreou. 

That partnership, he said, was a key in getting the team invited, as Feyenoord is also where van Persie’s playing career began. The now-annual tournament, he said, will feature U9 teams from international parent clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund and more.

Past participants include youth teams from parent clubs such as Chelsea, Tottenham and Southampton, among others according to RISE’s website. All matches will be played with an 8-on-8 format on half-size pitches. 

“It was so exciting when we got that call,” Papandreou said

A similar sentiment was echoed by Missouri City resident J.T. Calabrese, whose son Cade is also part of the team that will travel to the Netherlands. As part of the 10-day trip, the team will spend about a week training at professional facilities alongside premier youth clubs before playing in the 14-team tournament over a span of two days.

Calabrese, who said his son is in just his second full season of soccer, said he always envisioned taking his son abroad to play soccer in different countries – but he never quite imagined it would come in the form of an international tournament invite at such a young age.

“I knew it was a dream for him (to play internationally) as soon as he started watching and talking about soccer,” Calabrese said. “…But I never thought this was when it would happen. It’s pretty surreal.”

Cade, he said, knows all about the European soccer scene. But his father thinks that he will still be in for quite the surprise when the team travels internationally in a few weeks, training where professional players have trained.

“I think he’s going to be in awe when he actually gets there and sees the facilities where some of the famous players in the world have participated,” Calabrese said. “He’s excited, but I’m not sure he’s fully aware of what’s about to happen.”

Papandreou said his son and the rest of the team are likely in for the same feeling, and that they are just trying to soak up the experience. 

“They’re going to be star struck over there,” Papandreou said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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