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Statesboro youth participates in the GA Soccer Olympic Development Program (ODP)

  • Leo Mendez.

“Talent without hard work is nothing.” Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid C.F.
Widely regarded as the best soccer player in the world, Ronaldo is noted for his rigorous training regimen and a strong work ethic.
According to statistics from US Youth Soccer, there are more than 3 million young people between the ages of 5 and 19 engaged in the sport on some level today. Some of them play strictly for fun while others set their sights on competing at the sport’s highest levels. Players with special skills are identified early in their careers and develop their talents under the watchful eyes of professional-level coaches.
Leo Mendez, age 14, lives in Statesboro, Ga. and is a great example of a young player who has shown the willingness and desire to train extra hard to achieve his long-term goal of playing professional soccer. Recently, Mendez was chosen as one of the goalkeepers in the GA Soccer Olympic Development Program, or ODP, as a member of the Georgia State team.
“I’ve been playing soccer since I was 4-years-old,” Leo said. “But I got really serious about it when I was 10. I have played with Bulloch County Parks and Rec, Lanier Soccer Association (Sharks), Savannah United, Storm in SC; and last year, I joined the AFC Lightning Club team in Atlanta (Peachtree City).”
Leo first tried out for the Olympic Development Program last fall and has been training with ODP coaches since October of 2016. Currently, the ODP team is training at the newly inaugurated Atlanta United FC Training Ground in Marietta, and the team is getting ready to represent GA at Region Camp at the Univ. of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL. in July of 2017.
“I play goalkeeper and I have been really fortunate to have some great coaches along the way,” he said. “The great thing about ODP is the one-on-one training and the learning environment is great. As a player, you are surrounded by teammates who are all working hard to be the best they can be.”
Leo’s mother, Margarita Muñoz, is the region one coordinator for the Georgia Department of Education’s Migrant Education Program. She credited the dedication of Leo’s soccer coaches for helping him develop his natural talents as an athlete.
“Leo has been fortunate to have some really great coaches at different levels. He has played and attended goalkeeper camps/training in Atlanta, Savannah, and Statesboro,” She said. “People like Geoff del Forn, Dany Alvarado, Jonathan Cueva, and Michael Rodriguez. They have all been very encouraging in working with him.”
Leo’s father, Juan Mendez, is equally supportive and involved with Leo’s training. The senior Mendez is passionate about the sport and challenges Leo to always do his best.
Leo’s favorite team is Manchester United and two of his favorite goalkeepers are Tim Howard, goalkeeper for the Colorado Rapids and the United States national team, and Guillermo Ochoa, The Mexican National goalkeeper also known as “Memo”.
He was thrilled last summer when the Premier Development League brought top-level amateur soccer to Statesboro with the arrival of Tormenta FC. With a roster of skilled college athletes, Tormenta barely missed the playoffs and finished its inaugural season with a record of 6 wins, 5 losses, and three ties.
“It’s been fun to watch soccer becoming more and more popular here,” Leo said. “Right now, I’m just focused on doing my best in academics and helping my team(s) win matches and becoming the best goalkeeper I can be.”
For more information about the GA Soccer Olympic Development Program, please visit www.georgiasoccer.org/odp/odp_news/

Issue Month: 
Wednesday, May 3, 2017