CENTRAL FALLS — Cesar Fajardo had just finished playing in a youth soccer game in North Smithfield on Sunday when his coach, Mayro Estrada, told him and his teammates he had a special surprise in store.
Estrada then leveled the news that two members of the New England Revolution professional soccer team, not to mention some of the organization's Academy youth coaches, would conduct a “Community Clinic” inside the Central Falls High School gymnasium Tuesday night.
“I was, like, 'Are you kidding me? The Revs are coming?” gushed Fajardo, a Calcutt Middle School eighth grader. “I was hoping I didn't have any other plans that day, but I would have canceled them anyway.”
Fajardo stood in a corner of the gym with Giovanni Ortiz, a seventh grader at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Academy and his teammate with the Central Falls Youth Soccer Association's Under-14 Division, watching the goings-on.
In essence, the Academy coaches – led by Gary Hall, the Revolution Academy's Professional Development Manager and assistant coach of the Academy's Under-16 boys' squad – asked the 100-plus children to partake in a series of drills.
“This is so great!” Fajardo beamed. “I'd love to play with the Revs someday. It's always been a dream of mine to be a professional soccer player, and maybe this will help me. I've thought about it, and I'd like to make history by becoming one of the first people from Central Falls to play in Major League Soccer.
“I want to learn how to control the ball better with my right foot,” he continued. “I use my left foot too much, and you can't do that if want to be a good player.”
The event was held in conjunction with the city's Project GOAL program, the CFYSA and Navigant Credit Union, stated Craig Tornberg, the Revolution's Vice President.
“We didn't organize this by any application process, but instead because of the makeup of Central Falls,” he noted. “This is an incredibly diverse area, and specifically the Colombian community. It's not only one of the most Colombian-rich communities in New England, but the entire country.
“This has always been an important area for us because Central Falls and Pawtucket have always shown the Revolution organization great support. These people have been coming to our matches for the last 16 years.”
Tornberg explained that the team recently signed three players to its roster from Colombia, including center defender John Lozano, midfielder Fernando Cardenas and striker Pepe Moreno; he also indicated the Revs wanted to provide a unique opportunity for the city's Colombian population to meet their home-grown athletes.
“This was designed for them to make them feel right at home,” he offered, pointing to the masses in the stands. “This is as good a welcoming committee as we ever could have hoped for. There are over 100 kids here, as well as some of their parents and coaches, and they all love the sport of soccer. They're looking forward to training with our Academy coaches.
“We usually do a couple of clinics every year, but not quite like this situation,” he added. “I remember about 12 years ago we held a 'Welcome to your new home' event for Walter Zenga and the Italian community up in Boston, but I don't think we've done something like this since.
“This is a great privilege for us, and a great honor to be here. This is a terrific and friendly reception Central Falls and Pawtucket have given us.”
While Hall and his coaches ran through freestyle drills, first with a younger CFYSA contingent (those ages 6-12), then with the older kids like Fajardo and Ortiz, Revs' additions Cardenas and Lozano signed autographs for dozens of children.
Conrado Mosqueira, the CFYSA's President, mentioned he had wanted to hold such a clinic in his home city for years, but wasn't quite sure how to go about it.
“I started talking with Jasir Charris, who works for the Revolution, and we started putting this idea into motion back in November,” he said. “(Councilman) James Diossa is a good friend of mine, and actually helped bring our high school boys' soccer team a state championship back in 2002. He helped us get organized with the city.
“He helped us get this gym for this program, and also was instrumental in getting the gym at the Wyatt Detention Center for our (CFYSA) players to practice during the winter,” he continued. “During the summer, he helped us get access to the (Francis Corrigan Athletic Complex) on Higginson Avenue.
“When we started this program with Jasir, we had five kids enlisted to practice with him. It continued to grow, more children joined and now we have over 100. They come from the youth soccer associations in Central Falls and Pawtucket.”
Diossa also attended, and he revealed he aided in creating a round-table discussion as to how to lure the Revolution to a clinic.
“We wanted them to choose Central Falls as the venue,” he said. “That discussion was about a month ago, and it included myself, the Colombian-American Association, the CFYSA and others. We got together at the Adams Library, and it went really well.
“What's so great about this is Jasir works for the Revs and lives here in C.F.; he entertained the idea of bringing some players here. I'm so proud of everybody who played a role in assembling this.”
As he peered out at the children doing their drills, Mosqueira sighed.
“This is so beautiful! Now this is progress,” he said. “We're so happy to see the kids, the parents and members of the Revolution interacting in this program. They're here to teach the technical aspects of soccer. They're doing individual work.
“I want to cry, I'm so happy. I've never seen anything like this, in Central Falls, which is such a loving soccer community. This is very emotional for me … You know, I have an ultimate goal for our city 10-20 years from now, and that's to have a school of young students. There they will learn not only academics and subjects, but soccer as well.
“For now, I'll settle for this,” he added with a grin. “They're practicing with the same people who they watch on the field at Gillette Stadium.”
Kevin Vargas, a nine-year-old student at Veterans Elementary, claimed he felt nervous because he was meeting “real pro soccer players.
“I learned a lot,” he admitted. “Now I know how to do the 'scissors' move to get past a defender. Now I feel like, because I know that trick, maybe I can fool a defender and run down the field and score. These players and coaches are really cool. I never thought I'd meet a pro soccer player until I was much older, but here they are. It's very exciting because they're all so good.”
When the clinic ended, Hall assembled the children by the bleachers and told them he was proud of them all, and also noted the Revolution will play the Portland Timbers in its MLS home opener in Foxboro at 4 p.m., Saturday. (It will take place after the Canadian and Brazilian national women's teams face off in the doubleheader tilt at 1 p.m.).
“This was excellent!” said Cardenas, a 23-year-old Revs' player and native of Cartago Valle, Colombia, through a translator (naturally, Charris). “It's very important for the children, the community and us to be here, as this is a benefit to all.
“This feels like I'm at home,” he continued. “I know I'm far away from my country, but this makes me feel at home. I know there is a lot of Latin-Americans here in this city; it makes me proud so many of them are from Colombia.”
When asked how it felt to sign so many autographs, approximately 125, he smiled, “I like seeing the kids' smiles. They would see a picture of me, and it reminds me of when I was young and getting autographs from players.”
One of his favorites? MLS legend Carlos Valderrama.
“We were teaching them the scissors move, how to master the ball and how they should look at professional players during a game,” Hall stated. “We want them to see how the moves we taught them are used by players in a game, then maybe they could use those moves in one of their games.
“Right from the beginning, I told them there was a prerequisite for them, and that was to have a smile on their faces at all times,” he added. “I also said they must have a love for the game, and I could see by the turnout that wasn't a problem.
“We're thrilled to be here. We were blown away by how much the kids and parents were into it.”