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Teens separated by 7,000 miles meet on a soccer field in suburban Philadelphia

The Football Academy of Dubai played a pair of friendlies against local youth teams in a trip to the area last week

Matt Ralph

As away matches go, it’s pretty hard to match the 7,000-mile journey a group of teenagers from the United Arab Emirates recently took to participate in a camp, see local sights of interest and play a couple of friendlies in the Philadelphia area.

The team of mostly 16-year-olds from The Football Academy of Dubai started their time here at the Villanova Soccer Camp and then capped off the trip with a four-day tour organized by Rosemont College head coach David Carvalho.

“I’ve always wanted to do something like this,” said Carvalho, who in addition to coaching in the college ranks runs a company called Brazilian Technical Training. “I want to help bridge the gap between international players and universities here.”

Carvalho knows from experience what it’s like to come to the U.S. from another country as a teenager. He moved to Moorestown, N.J. with his family from Brazil while in high school and went on to have a successful college soccer career at Eastern University.

“For the Dubai kids, their goal is to go to school here,” Carvalho said. “They want an American college education and soccer is a way for them to help make that happen.”

During his four days with the team from Dubai, Carvalho arranged for them to go to the King of Prussia Mall and the Constitution Center among other area sights and to train and play a pair of friendlies on the gray turf at Rosemont.

The games, against Lower Merion SC Rats and FC Montco Die Mannschaft, ended up lopsided wins for a couple of the stronger youth teams in the region, but as friendlies go it was more about the spirit of competition than the final score.

“It was just cool to hear about how far they traveled,” said Alex Kades, a midfielder for the Rats. “It was also cool to see two teams separated by so much connected by the sport we enjoy. It just goes to show how popular the sport is around the world and how big of a deal it is in the lives of players around the globe.”

Both of the local teams were on average older and had a physical advantage on the younger, more technical team. The team from Dubai featured a blend of players from around the world representative of the oil rich global city that is a business hub for the Middle East.

“I always say that football is like food, wherever you go in the world football is football but it has different flavors and really what we wanted was to try the American flavor and we sure did,” TFA head coach Ali El Jishi said.

El Jishi said he was impressed with both teams and by the competition in America.

“The two teams we played were really good teams,” he said. “What you guys do in America, athleticism is very important in football, it’s actually paramount. But also I was very very impressed with both teams the way they keep their shape and the way they play their tactics.”

Carvalho was pleased with how everything went: the Dubai players got exposure with local college coaches while the local players got an extra game in and a chance to say they played against a team from halfway around the world.

“With everything that goes on around the world, it’s just good to have kids from so many different places and cultures getting together and playing the game we all love,” Carvalho said.