- August 13, 2014
OCOEE It’s game day, so for Coach Roger Gonsalves, that means it’s time to get into the soccer-mobile.
On his way to the game, Gonsalves drives his Suburban to many of the players’ homes to give them a ride.
That’s a lot of driving, considering Gonsalves coaches a travel club team, the U17 Comets, an Ocoee-based team that plays under the umbrella of Clermont FC.
On rides to the game, some of the players ask, “Coach, if we win this game, can we go to the beach?”
Others say, “Coach, when I make it big, I’m buying you a nice car.”
But for now, the Suburban works just fine.
In 2011, Gonsalves was coaching youth recreational soccer at the Jim Beech Recreation Center. As some of the boys turned 14 and began to age out of the program, Gonsalves felt remorse. Many of the boys could not afford to leave the recreation league and play for a club or travel team.
“They had so much talent,” Gonsalves said. “And I (said), ‘Man, there’s something that has to get done.’ I never did travel before, and I just got these guys and said, ‘Listen, who wants to go travel?’”
It was the beginning of a passion for Gonsalves, who quickly set to fundraising. Other club teams saw his passion and bought his team uniforms, which can be expensive.
The team eventually got the opportunity to play through Clermont FC, though Gonsalves holds the team’s practices at the Jim Beech Recreation Center.
The Comets began to travel around the state, to tournaments in Sarasota, Naples and Tallahassee, with Gonsalves happy to be both coach and chauffeur for team members who didn’t have a ride to and from tournaments.
It didn’t take long for the team to have success.
This year, the U17 Comets won the Region Cup, which takes the team to the Presidents Cup on April 30 and May 1. If the team wins, it will represent Florida in the State Cup.
As many of the boys reach 11th and 12th grade, Gonsalves hopes to help the team members get scholarships. His wife, Liselle, is team manager, cheering them on and encouraging them to focus on getting good grades, so they can be considered for scholarships. Some team members plan to try out for Orlando City Soccer Club or the Orlando City B team, the MLS club’s “minor-league” team that competes in the USL PRO league.
“I like the players and the coach,” said Jack Sewell, a junior center midfielder. “I like being able to play on the weekends. It’s something to keep me busy.”
Gonsalves’ drive is to give the team members something productive to do and keep them out of trouble.
“I try to keep them together, teach them respect, the way you carry yourself on the field, the way you speak to people,” he said.
That drive is very personal.
“I grew up on my own,” he said. “I know what it is not to have guidance.”
The impact of soccer carries beyond the field.
“I feel it teaches me how to help others,” said Alexis Rodriguez, a junior center back on the team. “If I know something, I can help them do stuff. It teaches me how to talk to other people and not be shy around other people.”
The bond between the team members is evident.
“It’s crazy that they’re 17-year-old boys, but they look out for each other, give each other funny names and they come from all walks,” said Liselle Gonsalves.
Ultimately, Gonsalves hopes to create a club environment and offer soccer to more kids at an affordable cost.
Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected]