Five professional soccer players took to the fields of Fort Meade on Monday. But they didn’t come to play other adults.
They had a bigger challenge — leading about 100 children, ages 5 to 12, in a scrimmage and drills.
As members of D.C. United pointed out techniques in kicking and dribbling, many of the giggling youngsters randomly ran around the field outside the Fort Meade USO Center.
“The children are the most fun to work with,” United midfielder Marcelo Sarvas said. “If you tell them to kick the ball, they grab the grass or pick their nose. It’s all in good fun.”
For the fourth consecutive year, the Fort Meade USO Center hosted the D.C. United and Leidos Children’s Soccer Clinic for children of active-duty service members.
“This event was just as successful as the last three,” said Jim Patton, a volunteer at the USO Center. “What makes this event successful is the kids having a good time. The D.C United players always do a great job.”
United defenders Kofi Opare and Steve Birnbaum, goalkeeper Steve Clark and forward Deshorn Brown also participated in the clinic. Talon, the team mascot, made an appearance, giving hugs and high-fives.
“We hope to make a positive impact in these kids’ lives,” Opare said. “Coming out to interact with the kids brings a smile to our faces.”
Sarvas said the clinic helps to familiarize children with the game.
“These kids are the future of soccer,” he said. “It’s a joy to bring them closer to the sport.”
Moments before the nearly four-hour clinic began, the children ran to the field to practice kicking and dribbling.
Once the United players arrived, the youngsters were split into three groups. In one group, a United player set up a mini soccer match, allowing the children to play against one another.
In the other two groups, the remaining United members led a variety of drills.
“I had a really fun time,” said 6-year-old Esme Krueger after the clinic.
The Manor View Elementary School student said she learned new “tricks” from the pros.
“My favorite part was learning the different drills,” she said.
Martin Challgren was also excited to be a part of the clinic.
“I had lots of fun today,” the 10-year-old said. “I would love to become a professional soccer player one day and play for FC Barcelona.”
Not only did the youngsters enjoy time on the field. They also savored the free ice cream from the Leidos ice-cream truck and a dinner of pulled chicken and mac and cheese provided by Mission BBQ.
When the clinic came to an end, the children — some jumping up and down — eagerly waited in line as players autographed jerseys, soccer balls, cleats and paper.
“I got my ball and shoe signed by a professional soccer player!” yelled Kaitlyn Booze, 9, who attends Pershing Hill Elementary School. “I’m keeping this forever!”