Six local teens spent nearly two weeks in Sweden last month, but they weren’t there to take in the sights.
“It was mostly soccer,” said Los Altos resident Jakob Motogawa, a member of the Palo Alto Soccer Club’s 00/01 boys team. “We walked around to get food and stuff, but we didn’t get to be tourists and see buildings and things like that.”
That’s because most of their days were spent on Swedish soccer fields training for or competing in the world-renowned Gothia Cup tournament.
“We didn’t have much time for sightseeing,” said Los Altos resident Hannah Ashby, a member of the De Anza Force North 02 girls team, “but we did take trams around the city to see the area.”
That city was Gothenburg, the second-largest municipality in Sweden.
“We went around the city, but we didn’t get out of the city,” said Los Altos resident Nick Fletcher, Motogawa’s Palo Alto Soccer Club teammate. “It’s a really beautiful place.”
This marked the 43rd consecutive year that Gothenburg has hosted what is billed as “the world’s largest and most international youth (soccer) tournament.” Held July 17-22, the event featured 1,730 teams from 82 nations.
“It’s eye-opening to see the effect a sport can have on so many countries,” said Fletcher, a junior at Los Altos High.
His team stayed in a dorm with several others from around the world – including an under-12 boys squad from Ghana that midfielder Motogawa won’t soon forget.
“It was fun to talk with them every day,” said the St. Francis High junior. “They pumped us up for each game with their hilarious pregame rituals.”
The support didn’t help Palo Alto win games early on; the squad started 0-3 and was relegated to the consolation bracket of the playoffs. But the team – also featuring locals Vinay Patel of Los Altos High and Mountain View High’s Ethan Briens and Paul Faurot – won its playoff opener. Palo Alto stunned a higher-seeded team from the country of Georgia 1-0 on a late goal by Patel.
Palo Alto was eliminated from the tourney in the next round, hurt by what center back Fletcher described as “a couple of unlucky calls” in a penalty kick loss to a team from South Africa.
While Motogawa would have liked to leave Sweden with a few more wins, he put the trip in perspective.
“As a team, we went there for fun,” he said. “We had players from four (Palo Alto Soccer Club) teams and trained together for only three weeks before we went there. We didn’t have much chemistry at first, but we got better each game.”
Ashby and her Force team fared better at the tourney. The squad won its first four games, with forward Ashby scoring a pair of goals in the third match. The Force fell in its fifth and final game, losing 3-1 to another American team in the playoffs.
“We played really well,” Ashby said of her team’s performance in the Gothia Cup. “We played teams that were more physical and stronger than most California teams, but we stepped it up.”
The Castilleja School sophomore totaled four goals in the tourney, which she described as “a great experience.”
Ashby added that the Force plans to return next summer and may also travel to China for another major tournament.
“Traveling to other countries is a great bonding experience,” she said.
For more information on the Gothia Cup, visit gothiacup.se.