See that spire-laden structure in the background of the photo, behind the local kids who recently returned from three weeks of soccer training in Barcelona, Spain? That’s the Palau Nacional, built for the 1929 World’s Fair. It contains the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya — the national art museum of Catalonia.
To the left of the national palace, says Edwin Canizalez of Las Vegas’ Universal Football Club, under whose banner the local kids play club soccer, is the hotel where the great Lionel Andres “Leo” Messi stayed as a 12-year-old when he first tried out for FC Barcelona.
The kids loved that story about Messi, Canizalez said.
When I was their age, I remember my dad driving past a Pizza Hut in Hammond, Ind., and saying that was where Darrel Chaney, who batted .217 in 915 games for the Reds and Braves, used to hang out. Not exactly the same. For starters, the architecture was lacking. No spires.
The local soccer kids spent three weeks in August at the Javier Marcet Academy, so named for 82-year-old Javier Marcet, a former La Liga midfielder for Hospitalet, Espanyol and Real Madrid. His academy has a bigger reputation than Marcet had as a player, so think of him as the Tom Emanski of Spanish soccer. Kids who attend Marcet’s academy can expect to learn the basics.
They also can expect to pick themselves up after hulking Russian youth repeatedly knock them down in the 6-yard box.
“This kid was 14, and he had a full beard,” said Jesse Pratt, who is 14 and looks it.
The local kids went to Spain to learn the type of free-flowing soccer that Leo Messi plays. But there’s a hefty sum — around $5,000 per player — attached to learning the game from Spaniards.
So the soccer kids first learned about sacrifice and perseverance — it takes a lot of sacrifice to go without Xbox when one is saving for a plane ticket to Spain, a lot of perseverance to stand on a street corner while holding a car wash placard on a cloudy day.
Isn’t getting there supposed to be half the fun?
“Life skills are first. Soccer is second,” Canizalez says of the fundamental philosophy upon which the Universal FC program was founded.
Self-discipline. Sacrifice. Perseverance. Communicating with others, when a language barrier makes finding common ground a challenge. The local soccer kids learned about all these things.
One also learned about traditional West African folk music played with a bouncy groove.
Las Vegas musician King Ibu, originally of Senegal, played a private concert that raised about $3,000 for Jesse Pratt’s excellent soccer adventure, proving that car washes and bake sales are overrated when you know somebody who knows somebody who plays bass, lead and rhythm guitar and sings in five languages.
When the bouncy groove subsided, young Jesse stood up and told the music lovers that he had been working hard to raise money for his trip and how much he appreciated theirs.
He had learned how to say “thanks” in front of a large group. His dad thought that was pretty cool, too.
■ Defense wins championships. I know that, you know that, Auburn knows that, after nearly losing to Utah State on Saturday. But given the way UNLV moved the ball against Wisconsin’s first-string grain silos Thursday, perhaps the Rebels can beat Texas Christian, 83-80.
■ My local Buffalo Wild Wings showed the UNLV-Wisconsin game on the big screen, with the sound turned up. This is progress. A couple of years ago, when I went to the same Wild Wings to watch the UNLV-Wyoming game and it finally was put on one of the tiny screens under the trivia machine, some guy watching Northern Illinois vs. Eastern Michigan wanted to fight.
■ It took courage for Oscar De La Hoya to admit he was consumed by alcohol, cocaine and dressing up in women’s dainty things toward the end of his boxing career. One also hopes that last part never occurs to James “Lights Out” Toney.
■ When Butler’s basketball team opened with a loss to Louisville last year, the Bulldogs still had a chance to play for an NCAA championship. The Bulldogs still had that chance, even after losses to Wright State and Youngstown State. Texas Christian will not have the chance to play for the NCAA football championship after losing to Baylor on Friday. Even if it fixes its defense.
■ Officials at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open acted like it was no big deal when Tiger Woods said he would play in a PGA Tour Fall Series event in California instead of here, though attendance here is lousy. As former tournament director Charlie Baron used to say when Tiger would turn him down: “Ben Hogan’s not gonna play, either.”
■ Wisconsin’s free-agent quarterback, Russell Wilson, after Thursday’s 51-17 victory over the Rebels: “I don’t think I got touched at all today, which is pretty unbelievable.” You can tell North Carolina State, Wilson’s former school, never played Indiana.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.