sam4Red Bank Regional student Sam MacPherson (left) reached the pinnacle in his teenage soccer career, when he was selected to represent his Region I US Soccer Youth Olympic Development Program in the South African International soccer tournament this past spring. (photos by Greateye Studios/ Scott Johnson Photography)

Press release from Red Bank Regional High School

America, it seems, may have caught soccer fever, with the US team surviving the “death group” round and advancing on to the group of 16 in the 2014 Soccer World Cup. Could this be the turning point where the US finally embraces the sport that dominates the rest of civilization?

Sam MacPherson, a 17 year old from Red Bank and a rising senior at Red Bank Regional High School, is doing his part to achieve that goal, literally. The RBR soccer forward returned this past spring from an international tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa, with his elite team of 18 players in the Region I US Soccer Youth Olympic Development Program (USSODP). The team was made up of the best soccer players culled from competitive tournaments in 15 states in the Mid-Atlantic to North Eastern United States, inclusive of Virginia to Maine.

samFor the past six years, Sam has been part of an organization that is purposed to developing youth in soccer to increase US success in the international soccer arena. Like many suburban American kids, Sam began playing soccer at the young age of six. By the age of eight, he began to distinguish himself in soccer by joining a traveling soccer team taking his family along to destinations throughout the east coast.  It was in traveling soccer that he first learned about USSODP.

He comments, “I was looking for a higher level of soccer and, therefore, tried out for the NJ Olympic Development program.”

Each year, Sam improved his level of play until he was selected from a competitive camp program to make the international team, reaching the highest level he could achieve in that program.

“The purpose of the international trip is to get the experience to play in world competitive soccer, which is more challenging than any opportunity you have to play in the United States,” Sam explains.

In late March, his team traveled to South Africa for a 10-day trip to play in the 2014 Future Champions Gauteng Cup where 16 teams from almost as many countries were represented in an under 17-age tournament.

The athletes were housed in an Olympic-style village atmosphere, living, eating and socializing together. This opportunity offered an even more valuable lesson learned off the soccer field of ambassadorship and cultural diversity.

Sam states, “I absolutely loved getting to know everybody.  We hung out with the boys mainly from Ghana and Zambia and they even taught us their chants while we were traveling together to the games. I keep in touch with some of them through Facebook.”

The Region USSODP versus UK Sunderland game was even broadcast on South African TV.  In all, the American Region I team played five games yielding three ties and 2 losses. Sam registered an assist in one of the games. This was actually a respectable showing for a team that only played together three times before the international tournament. Sam was surprised to learn that some of the other teams were actually youth-feeder teams to their country’s professional teams.

He states, “Some of the boys actually lived and practiced with the pros. Others went to schools that specialized in soccer so they were also able to be educated.”

Not surprisingly, Brazil, who Sam described as “amazing,” won the Gauteng Cup.

The fun did not end with the tournament, however, as the group traveled together to enjoy an African safari outside of Johannesburg. It was an awesome experience, where the boys observed lions, cheetahs, hyenas and ostriches in their natural habitat.

Thinking upon his homeland and the importance of soccer, Sam believes that for years America’s focus for soccer has been on the fitness aspect of just playing a sport. He observes that international players, however, have more “soccer sense,” stressing the aspects of soccer in addition to being good athletes. He does believe that the American approach to soccer is changing to concentrate more on skills rather than just fitness.

Sam will play his last soccer season at RBR this fall. At the same time, he will be intensifying his college search. As a student in RBR’s Academy of Sports Medicine and Management and a student athletic trainer he hopes to attend a university that offers a program in his career aspiration of emergency medicine, and where he can also play Division One soccer. As an honor roll and AP student, who happens to have reached the pinnacle in American youth soccer, Sam MacPherson should have some very good prospects. For now, Sam is enjoying a summer of lifeguarding and cheering on America in the World Cup.