The City of Salford Schools F.A. under-15 boys soccer team kicked off its 20th anniversary tour with friendly matches against the host Chula Vista Rangers Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at Hilltop High School. This latest British invasion showcased some eye-popping international soccer skills as well as its primary goal: cultural exchange.
“We feel fortunate and humble that we’re the only South Bay club they’ve chosen to play against,” Rangers president Israel Garza said. “One day we’d like to reciprocate. We hosted a team from Japan last year, so I guess you can say our kids have gotten a lot of cultural awareness lately.”
Salford coaches Harry Hackett and John Chappell lauded the Rangers for continuing what has become a much-anticipated event for both clubs located half a world apart.
“We love everything about the United States,” Hackett said. “We obviously love the climate and we love the kindness and friendliness of the people here.”
“We love coming to Chula Vista – this is our fifth or sixth time,” Chappell said. “We’ve built up a lot of respect for them.”
The Salford team made its first trip to the USA two decades ago to compete in the Surf Cup.
This year’s Chula Vista event was the first at a high school stadium with lights. Previous visits by the Salford team have been at Rancho del Rey Middle School and Voyager Park.
“We like to mix up the fields each time they come so they can see other areas of Chula Vista,” Garza said.
Salford is located near Manchester in northwest England. The city’s soccer team has built up quite a reputation. Salford won the English Schools championship in 1947 and 2000, finished runner-up in 1989 and advanced as far as the semifinals in 2003.
Salford will play nine games in 12 days on its current tour, leaving Chula Vista for matches in Palm Springs and Anaheim before departure back to the United Kingdom.
“Each year’s team is different,” Hackett said. “What makes this year’s team different is its togetherness. There’s a lot of camaraderie. The boys really enjoy playing together as a team and it shows on the field.”
The British will carry a 1-1 record into their next match after defeating the Rangers under-14 squad, 9-0, on Tuesday and dropping a 2-1 match-up against the Rangers under-17 red team on Wednesday.
This year’s Salford team is heavy on speed. The Euro visitors wasted little time in scoring their opening goal on Tuesday and racked up multiple goals in short time spans during the first half en route to building a 7-0 lead against the Rangers U14 red team. The Rangers U14 blue team fared better in the second half, giving up only two goals while battling the physically fit Englanders with a much more aggressive style.
Rangers U14 red goaltender Ricky Durazo and sweeper Scott Nelson had more than they could handle against the fast Salford team, yet excelled on the pitch despite the lopsided score.
“They play super quick,” said Raad Aljabi, a member of the Rangers U14 red team. “I’m the fastest player on our team and they smoked me.”
In the second half, Salford ‘keeper Craig Fielding had his hands full deflecting several good scoring opportunities by the Rangers’ Jose Antonio while CV netminder Luis Ballesteros exhibited some athleticism in holding down the score.
Luke Norris and Fielding (playing forward the first half) each led the visitors with two goals in Tuesday’s match while Salford received single goals from Alex Dryburgh, George Leigh, Ben Christopher and Matthew Foulds.
Christopher’s volley shot was judged the best goal of the match by the British team.
The Rangers U14 red team is coached by Sockers alumnus Rene Ortiz while Ivan Navarro coaches the Rangers U14 blue team.
Milton Hidalgo, a legendary coach at San Diego High and San Diego City College, coaches the Rangers U17 team.
Victor Melendez serves as the Rangers technical director. Garza attributed Melendez with setting up the matches with Salford.
Players on the Rangers U17 team were coming off the recently completed high school season, scattered at Bonita Vista, Chula Vista, Otay Ranch, Mater Dei, Montgomery, Hilltop and Eastlake high schools.
Wednesday’s high profile encounter showcased the highly competitive spirit of both teams. Matthew Holloway gave Salford a 1-0 lead in the first half but the Rangers controlled play in the second half, rewarded with goals by David Garza and Pedro Diaz.
The two games served a dual purpose for the Rangers, who were seeking a high-caliber tune-up for the start of this weekend’s State Cup tournament. The Rangers have six teams entered: three U14 boys teams, U17 and U18 boys teams and a U15 girls team.
“This was a good test for us,” said Garza, who pointed out that the USA and England will meet in the men’s World Cup in July.
The Rangers have beaten Salford the last two years.
The Rangers will host the upcoming Memorial Cup, formerly the Chula Vista Soccer Fiesta, over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend (May 29-31). Prior to that, the club will take part in the soccer part of the International Friendship Games May 22 at Mater Dei High School. For more information on the Chula Vista Rangers, visit the club’s official Web site at www.chulavistarangers.com.