Kauai footballers taking on Europe

PUHI — A couple of local footballers will test their skills in Europe.

“I’m super nervous because it’s out of the country, but I’m really excited,” said Kaya Ramirez, 16, of Lawai on Wednesday in Puhi. “It’s cool to get to meet new people, train with new people and play with other people who aren’t from here, and play against people to see where we are.”

Ramirez and Ben Griep, 15, of Koloa — members of youth futsal club Kalaheo FC — will join some of the best youth soccer players around the world for international competition.

“Regular soccer is 11 vs. 11. Futsal is 5 vs. 5, and obviously it’s on concrete ground or on a solid floor,” Griep said, who also plays for Island School’s varsity boys soccer team. “It’s with a heavier ball, so it’s easier to control. But at the same time, it makes it harder than playing soccer. That’s how it’s different.”

Both Ramirez and Griep got the opportunity to travel to Europe from working with Adriano De Lima of Culture FC, who has done a number of futsal clinics on Kauai with Kalaheo FC.

De Lima is a Brazilian footballer who played professionally for a number of years in Brazil, Mexico, Europe and the United States.

“I began the work with Culture FC after I retired from professional football,” De Lima said in a phone interview Thursday. “The goal was to develop a school of football for kids to develop their game and to understand the environment of football — to become more passionate and to learn specific skills. I did camps and development clinics. And I’ve formed futsal teams and beach soccer teams, which is very rare here in the U.S. There was an opportunity to go to Kauai. Initially, I went to Oahu first, but then I went to Kauai to run a futsal clinic.”

Ramirez will join Spanish youth club Promesas Del Norte and will take part in U18 girls competition in San Sebastián, Spain.

“We were talking about going to Spain for a few years now, and we’re finally making it work,” Ramirez said, who also is a member of the girls varsity soccer team at Kauai High School. “He recently told me and Ben we’re for sure going (to Europe) in this past tournament we did a few months ago on Oahu.”

De Lima added: “The tournament they’re playing is the biggest tournament in Spain. It’s an international tournament with teams all over the world. There are over 600 teams playing in that tournament.”

Griep will join De Lima’s Culture FC team and will compete in exhibitions in Barcelona, Spain and also compete in a boys U17 tournament in Rimini, Italy.

Griep said he’s already had prior experience with Lima from joining his team last summer in California.

“My parents and my family are going to be there,” Griep said. “I’m obviously nervous, but at the same time I’m really excited as well. I’ve never been outside of the U.S. I mean, I’ve been to California, but that’s pretty much it. Europe, it’s insane.”

De Lima added: “We’re going to play the biggest tournament in Italy. Over 300 teams from all over the world. … Ben is going to do futsal friendlies in Barcelona, as well as outdoor friendlies. And then in Italy, it’s an outdoor tournament.”

What drew De Lima to Ramirez and Griep was seeing their growth during the futsal camps throughout the years. Both eventually became assistants to De Lima as junior coaches during his clinics.

“Another thing with Ben and Kaya is that their families are very supportive, not only to their kids, but also to the idea that we had behind Culture FC futsal,” De Lima said. “They were always helping and promoting the healthy environment that we’re setting for every kid.”

Ramierez will meet with Promesas Del Norte later this month, and Griep will join De Lima and his Culture FC team in early July.

“(I hope) to become a better soccer player all around,” Ramirez said. “And definitely make connections, and hopefully go back again.”

Griep, too, hopes to learn skills and create new friendships in Europe. He added if he could meet some professional players, particularly Arsenal midfielder and German international Mesut Özil, that wouldn’t be bad, either.

“I obviously hope to get better at soccer, but I hope to bond with new people,” he said. “Meet new people and create new connections, everything you can possibly get after meeting a new culture.”

De Lima hopes Ramirez and Griep’s experiences will further validate their enthusiasm of soccer.

“I hope they take the big steps and bring it back to the island,” he said. “So possibly everyone connected to them or not, or to me when I’m there, they realized they have a lot of options to go with their talent. They can get those opportunities that Kaya and Ben are getting. All they have to do is search for it.”

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