Dartmouth middle schooler competes in world soccer tournament
On Wednesday, April 10, twelve-year-old Dartmouth Middle School student Niall Fogarty traveled to Spain for his spring vacation.
But unlike most other travelers, he is going for a special purpose: to participate in the 2019 Mundialito soccer tournament.
Mundialito, or ‘little world cup’, is held for children ages 7-12. More than 3,000 kids from five continents are expected to attend.
The tournament — now in its 26th year — will be held over ten days in Salou, Spain, one hour south of Barcelona.
Niall says he’s “very excited” to get the chance to participate.
He started playing soccer with Dartmouth Youth Soccer Association when he was six.
After a few years playing with St. Michael Youth Soccer in New Bedford, he has now moved on to Global Premier Soccer, where he was selected for Mundialito out of kids from all over the region.
Niall’s Mundialito team — one of six teams from the US that will be attending — is made up of kids from all over Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
“We’ve practiced like three or four times, I think,” Niall says shyly.
But in spite of their obvious skills, Niall admits he’s “a little bit” nervous.
The sixth grader is competing with some of the best players of his age from all over the world.
The tournament is set up like the World Cup, and even kicks off on Sunday with an opening ceremony — including a parade of all the athletes carrying their home flags.
Whichever teams win their brackets will go on (after a day of rest) to play in the quarter finals, then semi-finals, and then the championship.
It’s an exhausting schedule.
Niall’s team are playing a game every day until the quarter finals — including a friendly game on Saturday with another US team, the USA East Wizards, before the real games begin — and two on Tuesday.
Is he worried?
“It matters the time,” Niall says. “If it’s like one right after another, we might be tired and worn out and stuff. But if it’s like, in the morning and then one in the afternoon, we might regain our energy.”
Niall’s age group is the oldest that can play in the tournament. They play eleven a side, while the younger children play only seven.
“It’s split into groups,” he explains. “The two top teams in our group are Spartak [from Russia] and Atlético Madrid.”
Joining him for the trip are Niall’s mother Ana and his cousin Kaitlyn, who is a sort of soccer mentor to the middle schooler. Like Niall, she also used to play in a number 2 jersey.
Ana is also hoping to see some of the sights — including Barcelona’s famous Sagrada Familia church — during their stay.
But Niall is definitely more interested in soccer.
All he really remembers from a previous family vacation to Spain is touring the Real Madrid stadium.
“I don’t really like Spanish food,” he adds, wrinkling his nose.
Although he’s played a lot of sports, including basketball and tee ball, soccer is his favorite.
Niall is unequivocal about what he’s most looking forward to. “Winning games, and stuff,” he says, adding “and meeting new friends” as an afterthought.
So what does he think of his chances?
“We might do good against the other teams,” he admits. “I think we’re going to like stay strong against the good teams, like Spartak and Atlético.”
But he’s not willing to go any further. When asked if he thinks his team will beat their bracket, Niall shrugs. “Maybe,” he says diplomatically.
Or perhaps he just doesn’t want to jinx it.
Win or lose, Niall Fogarty is going to play his heart out.