Sophomore Sandor Pelle played for Z Soccer United in the Donosti Cup in San Sebastián, Spain, July 2-10. His team, Z Soccer United, placed second of 580 teams, making it to the finals but was ultimately defeated by the Jordan Knights.
Q: Where were your opponents from?
A: We played teams from Basque Country, Spain, France, the U.S. and Jordan.
Q: How did you get on this team since it isn’t your Republic team?
A: I heard about it from one of my teammates, and the coach invited me to play. We all practiced together in the Bay Area once before leaving for Spain. My team was comprised of players from other Northern California teams. I knew some of them but not all of them.
Q: What position do you play? A: Winger, which is like a forward who plays wide. I scored two goals at the tournament. I didn’t have an off week, but I just couldn’t finish.
Q: What was your favorite part of your experience? A: Playing in Real Sociedad’s professional stadium. (Real Sociedad is a team in Spain’s professional soccer league.) A lot of the stadium was packed with fans from all over. The field was really big, and it was kind of intimidating because there were so many people. It was really fun and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – something I’ll never forget.
Q: How does Spanish soccer culture compare to American soccer culture?
A: Spanish culture is better. Everything revolves around soccer in Spain. Every kid plays it, and it’s just part of their lifestyle. American soccer culture is still developing, and there is a higher emphasis on backup plans in case soccer doesn’t work out as a career. From immersing myself in Spanish soccer culture, my desire to play and grow as a soccer player has grown. It was really cool to experience what it was like to have soccer be such an important part of everyday life in Spain.
Q: What was your schedule like?
A: The first few days, we had one game a day, but on the fourth day we had three games, and on the final day we had two.
Aside from playing, we watched all of the other teams play, and we also went to beaches and restaurants like Playa de la Concha. It was really nice, and the water was really clear. There are surrounding islands with houses and restaurants on the islands, and there were also little platforms out in the water with slides and stuff, which were super fun – by far the coolest beach I have ever visited. Then we went for a day trip to France, a pizza place and another beach.
Q: Most exciting game?
A: Semifinals against the local Basque team. It was really intense because we were fairly evenly matched. Super exciting. We beat them, 2-1.
Q: Toughest opponent? A: Our last match (against the Jordan Knights) was our toughest competition. The game actually came down to penalty kicks, which was pretty nerve-wracking. Both teams made five PK’s each, and then we missed our sixth and lost the game.
I was the second person on my team to make a PK. I felt a lot of pressure because the stands were packed and there were cameras everywhere. And after I made it, I felt somewhat relieved, but not completely because the winner was still undecided.