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Cousins return to the field after training in Brazil
POULSBO — There are at least two Vikings this season who can say they’ve played soccer at an international level.
Raul DeLuna and Brian Duran, cousins and varsity midfielders, both spent months training and playing with the Paulista soccer academy teams. Academy teams are used to prepare players for the professional level.
The two North Kitsap High School juniors got a chance to compete and train with Brazilian players — including retired World Cup champion Jose Edmilson Gomes de Moraes — and other players their own age from around the world.
“It was really hard competition,” DeLuna said at Strawberry Field.
DeLuna was in Brazil last spring; Duran went last summer. They were invited by Thadeu Goncalves, an educator and promoter of youth soccer.
The cousins first trained in Florida, where soccer players showcased their skills. They were then invited to Brazil.
Along with conditioning, the two improved their skills on the soccer field. Deluna said he learned more about field positioning, and where to be at what time. The youth team, he said, helped “with mental speed.” He said he learned to be more unpredictable.
The youth team “gives you more confidence to play, because you’ve been playing such difficult players,” DeLuna said.
Duran agreed with his cousin, adding that he learned how to play faster soccer. Always moving and keeping the opponent guessing, he said, is an important skill.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing … always keep going,” Duran said.
Their schedule looked something like this: Wake up, eat, play soccer, rest, more soccer, eat, workout. The academy players got one day off each week. But the hard work may help them on the field. Plus, it gave all the soccer players a chance to be seen by colleges and recruiters.
Because of the timing of the trip, DeLuna missed the 2013 season; however, that may be for the best for the 2014 team.
The 2014 team lost a few of its standout players last season. Daniel Norberg and Nathan Foster graduated. Henry Baldwin joined the Seattle Sounders’ 1998’s, a pre-academy team.
Now, DeLuna and Duran have a chance to help fill in gaps on the Vikings’ team. In fact, they’ve already started.
During the team’s first game of the season against the North Mason Bulldogs, on March 15, DeLuna earned an assist. The Vikings defeated the Bulldogs 3-1.
When the Vikings faced the Olympic Trojans on March 18, DeLuna earned the team’s first of seven goals, with an assist. Duran earned two assists. The Vikings won 7-0.
The cousins’ work on the field early in the season adds to their teammates’. Junior midfielder Brady Pierce has racked up the most goals for the team so far; shooting in two against the Bulldogs, and two against the Trojans.
With all the changes in the roster, the Vikings will have a “new identity,” head coach Greg St. Peter said. The team is finding that identity quickly, however. Three weeks of practice, and two games in, the team already knows its strengths and weaknesses, he said.
The team will be led this year by senior captains David Sheriff, Jared Roest and Sean Hitchcock.
The game against the Bulldogs, St. Peter said, was “pretty sloppy.” However, the Vikings turned it around against the Trojans.
“We looked good,” he said. “We were crisp. Defense was great.”
St. Peter likes the team’s chances to win the Olympic League title. So early in the season, and being tied with their rival Kingston Buccaneers as of March 20, makes it difficult to tell what the season’s outcome will be.
Things may become a little more clear March 22, when the Bucs and Vikings go head-to-head at Buc Field. The varsity teams play at 12:45 p.m.
What also remains to be seen is how DeLuna and Duran use what they learned in Brazil against the rest of the Olympic League competition. But whether the Vikings take the league title or not, the cousins respect the sport more than ever.
After playing in Brazil, and seeing all the professional hopefuls vying for a chance to make it, DeLuna and Duran appreciate the opportunities they have in front of them. And they thank their families for helping them get to where they are today.