KINGSTON, Jamaica – Two players preparing for a crucial match-up in the Concacaf Gold Cup took time out of their busy schedule to share with kids taking part in a NextPlay Academy event on Saturday.
El Salvador midfielder Gerson Mayen and Curacao forward/winger Gino van Kessel were on hand at the Captain Horace Burrell of Excellence to offer nearly 100 kids words of advice and inspiration, plus teaching some technical skills.
The children, who are of primary school age, were also involved in mini-matches under the watchful eyes of coaches and instructors. Also participating in the activities were Concacaf officials Manolo Zubiria (Chief of Football Officer) and Jason Roberts (Director of Development).
“I think it is important to have these grassroots programs because these kids wouldn’t have the opportunity that they now have… I also think it was important for us to be here as they would get encouraged by that,” noted Mayen.
Mayen, who was born in the USA to El Salvadoran parents, says he could relate to many of the kids participating in Saturday’s event because, like him, many of them are growing up in poverty and crime-stricken communities.
“I understand that some of the kids here are from a rough part of Jamaica and for them to be here is important because sometimes kids will go the wrong path, but by being here they are showing that they are interested in football.
“I grew up in the hard part of south-central LA (Los Angeles), and I did not have the opportunity that these kids have, and I would have liked to have that opportunity. As a kid I always wanted to be a soccer player and I did not have this opportunity, so I would encourage these kids not to take this chance for granted because they never know what life can bring and I would just encourage them to listen to their parents and do the right things,” Mayen noted.
Van Kessel of Curacao notes that hopefully interacting with the kids will leave a lasting positive impression as they go forward with their lives.
“It is always essential to have these clinics for the kids, and it is great that we could be here with them as they look up to us as professional players and who have made it to the national team.
“I let them know that sacrifice is important and used myself as an example that hard work pays off… I also told them that if you believe in something go after it,” he said.
Both Mayen and van Kessel were due to face each other in the Concacaf Gold Cup Group C match between El Salvador and Curacao at Jamaica’s National Stadium in Kingston on Monday, a match-up that would be the first Gold Cup game to be played in the Caribbean.
Hosts Jamaica and Honduras were scheduled to face each other in the feature match of the double-header.