The Kona Eagles recent trip to Spain was about much more than soccer.
The 15-day sojourn, which took nearly two years of planning and fundraising, featured plenty of travel, tourism and soccer. Coach David Madigan said the players, all 15 or younger, learned plenty about themselves, different cultures and their sport.
“I bet the memories that they carry with them won’t have to do with soccer,” Madigan said. “It will be the other kids that they met, just playing with a ball at a park, trying to speak a different language.”
Nearly half the team, which is made up almost entirely of players from the west side of the Big Island, have been with the Kona Eagles since the club was founded six years ago.
While the trip wasn’t necessarily intended to be just about the competition, Madigan was impressed by how well his Eagles performed abroad. All told, the team won six matches, lost four and drew two. Not bad for a club that plays about 20 matches per year compared with the more than 300 that some of the foreign clubs play.
The Eagles started their trip at the Barcelona Cup. They went 3-2-1, playing teams from Scotland, Sweden and Spain, and finished in third place.
“The tour director said he’s been doing it for 20 years and never saw an American team come back with a trophy,” Madigan said.
But the Eagles weren’t done collecting hardware. They still had the Donosti Cup in San Sebastian, Spain. The tournament started with an impressive opening ceremony at the home stadium of La Liga club Real Sociedad. The clubs in the 450-team tournament paraded into the stadium and onto a platform.
“It was like being in the Olympics,” Madigan said. “There were fireworks and everything. The kids were amazed, as was I.”
Once the actual matches started, the Eagles, who won the Hawaii Youth Soccer Association’s U-16 division on the Big Island, continued their hot play. They went 3-3-1 and finished second in the tournament. Madigan said the Eagles didn’t lose any match by more than one goal in Spain.
“It was really exciting to place as well as we did in both tournaments,” he said. “I’m really proud of the boys. To compete at the international level from here is incredible. “
That wasn’t the only thing that impressed Madigan.
“The cultural experience was incredible,” he said. “The other kids, we befriended the kids from Scotland. I have a card from a guy from Sweden, who would love to have us play there.”
While that’s a possibility, Madigan has something else on his mind.
“Maybe Portugal next year,” he said. “It was a great experience for everyone. The kids loved it. The parents loved it. But it’s also good to be home.”