Oldsmar Youth Soccer players meet and greet New York Red Bulls

Dozens of local youth soccer players and their families got to watch the New York Red Bulls practice at the Oldsmar Sports Complex on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018.

For a young athlete, there’s no bigger thrill than meeting your professional sports heroes.

Last week at the Oldsmar Sports Complex, dozens of local youth soccer players got the opportunity to do just that.

Roughly 75 kids and their families got to attend a New York Red Bulls practice while the Major League Soccer club was in town as part of a one-year agreement with Visit St. Pete Clearwater, and by all accounts, the kids were thrilled with the opportunity to interact with the team.

Dozens of local youth soccer players got to watch the New York Red Bulls practice at the Oldsmar Sports Complex on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018.

“The kids were very excited about this,” John Linse, Oldsmar Youth Soccer Association’s GM and director of operations, said on Thursday afternoon.

“We knew about it for a while but had to wait until it was officially announced, and when it was they were very excited to learn that a professional soccer team was going to be using the same field they play on.”

Indeed, a quick canvas of the group that gathered at the newly renovated field showed there were plenty of wide eyes and smiles on the faces of the kids.

8-year-old Chace Pears gets a glove signed by New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles while his 9-year-old brother, Hudsyn, watches prior to the Major League Soccer team’s practice at the Oldsmar Sports Complex on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018

Westchase resident Chad Pears said it’s all about autographs at this age as his two sons waited for the Red Bulls to hit the field prior to practice.

“Hudsyn is a goalie, so of course he had to get the goalie’s autograph,” Pears said as his 9-year-old got a glove signed by Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles.

“They’re at that age where they’re excited about autographs.”

Fellow OSC parent Gloria Acevedo said her son, Hugo, was thrilled to have the opportunity to see his favorite players up close.

10-year-old Oldsmar Youth Soccer player Hugo Acevedo and his mom, Gloria, watch the New York Red Bulls during the MLS team’s practice at the Oldsmar Sports Complex on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018.

“He’s so excited to be here,” she said.

“It’s not all the time you get to have this kind of team in town.”

Hugo agreed with his mom.

“I think it’s great that we get to meet different players,” he said, adding, “it’s pretty cool.”

10-year-old Oldsmar Youth Soccer player Hugo Acevedo poses with a couple of New York Red Bulls players during the MLS team’s practice at the Oldsmar Sports Complex on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018.

While a scheduling change led to the cancellation of the only game scheduled for the Tampa Road complex, Linse said just being around the team briefly gave him and his players a sense of what it’s like to play the sport at the highest level.

“I’ve been up here every day and I’ve been around soccer for 14 years, collegiately and with the Rowdies, and this team brought a different vibe than I’ve ever seen,” Linse said.

“It’s a different level of competitiveness, a different level of speed, a different level of organization, and until you see it, you can’t appreciate it.”

New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch shakes hands with a fan prior to the MLS team’s practice at the Oldsmar Sports Complex on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018.

He added he believes the one-year deal between the tourism board and MLS could lead to a long-term relationship between the Red Bulls and the local programs.

“I spoke with team officials about creating a partnership that benefits our kids and the youth soccer programs in the area in general,” Linse said.

“This is the first year, and hopefully we can continue to build on the relationship.”

Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis said there’s no doubt the kids would benefit from the experience.

A young Red Bulls fan got to watch her favorite practice at the Oldsmar Sports Complex on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018.

“What they did for the kids, you can’t even measure the value of that,” Bevis said.

“Today, the kids were on one side of the fence at practice, but there’s nothing to stop them from being on the other side someday.

“That’s what’s important to us as someone responsible for taxpayer dollars—taking care of the kids.”

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