Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Most soccer games Haiko Hovak plays in are against teams from Las Vegas or neighboring states. Thursday, though, was different. It was a game he’ll not soon forget.
Hovak’s Downtown Las Vegas Soccer Club’s under-16 squad played an exhibition against a team from Buenos Aires, Argentina — his first game against international competition.
“It’s crazy,” said Hovak, a Desert Oasis High junior, after the game. “Such a different style, you expect them to be super-pro and the energy is running high.”
Thursday’s exhibition matches, nine of which featured Las Vegas teams against squads from countries such as Argentina, France, England and Australia, kicked off the annual Las Vegas Mayor’s Cup. The annual showcase features more than 500 teams representing 19 countries in round robin-style tournaments starting today.
The tournament, played at about a dozen Las Vegas-area parks, concludes Monday.
For Hovak’s teammates, Jorge Lopez, 15 and Daniel Perez, 15, who had already faced international competition, Thursday’s 2-1 win over Argentina’s “Seleccion de Zarate” was just as rewarding, they said.
“It’s a totally unique experience, every time,” said Lopez, a junior at Spring Valley High School. “You see how they play down there compared to here.”
Added Perez, a junior at Southwest Career and Technical Academy, “They’re smart and they have good chemistry. And great sportsmanship.”
On another field, Downtown Las Vegas’ under-17 team fell to France’s “Team LA 59-62,” a travel squad made from eight clubs in the northern part of the European country.
Unlike Downtown Las Vegas’ Under-16 team, many of whose players could decipher Argentinian Spanish, Downtown Las Vegas’ Under-17 squad was left in the dark listening to their opponents speaking French.
But the French team’s on-field communication skills and crisp ball movement all brought a new understanding of the game that went beyond language barriers, the Las Vegans said.
“They’re very business-like about their approach to the game,” U-17 coach Tony Asquith said. “It’s not only a soccer experience, it’s a cultural experience, and I hope our kids can take some of these lessons away.”
For as much as Las Vegas coaches and players learned from the experience, perhaps the strongest remarks came from the teams they were playing.
Argentina’s “Seleccion de Zarate” coach Guillermo Mauro Keidel, 45, lauded the U-16 Downtown Las Vegas team for their scrappy, uptempo style of play.
“They’re in great shape and they play very aggressively,” Keidel said in Spanish. “We like to control the ball, but they really like to attack.”
Zarate team captain Renzo Dipasquale, 15, said he had never left his home town of Buenos Aires for a soccer game before heading to Las Vegas this week.
After months of raising money for the trip, getting a passport and a visa, Dipasquale called his first two days in the United States “unforgettable.”
“For us to come to the United States to play soccer, it’s a memory that we’ll have for the rest of our lives.”