Area trio wins Joga 3 U16 soccer tourney

Qualifies for global competition

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

Robert Allen, Brandon Zeller and Kyle Bethel are currently in Brazil, representing the United States in the Global Joga 3 Futbol World Cup Tournament.Robert Allen, Brandon Zeller and Kyle Bethel are currently in Brazil, representing the United States in the Global Joga 3 Futbol World Cup Tournament. What started out as a whim has turned into a world-traveling experience for Robert Allen, Kyle Bethel and Brandon Zeller.

The trio won the National Joga 3 U16 Championship in Venice Beach, Calif., last month and is representing the United States at this week’s Global Joga 3 Futbol World Cup Tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

It’s the last thing the trio expected when qualifying started back in June at GoodSports in Wall Township.

“We were looking to get touches [for the fall high school season], and the next thing I know we’re going to Brazil,” said Allen. “We had no clue whatsoever it would lead to this.”

Although from different areas in the state – Allen lives in Old Bridge and attends St. Joseph’s in Metuchen, Bethel goes to Howell, and Zeller goes to Toms River East – they have become the best of friends through playing on the same travel team, the U16 Matchfit Jammers. Soccer brought them together and now has made them world travelers.

It all started so innocently for them early this summer when they found out through a flier about the local qualifying tournament for Joga 3. Allen, Bethel and Zeller had played 3×3 soccer as teammates before, but never in Joga 3.

Joga 3 matches are played on a small court, half the size of a basketball floor. The goals are just 19 inches high and 5 feet wide, and there is no goalie. Games last three minutes with no substitutions. The emphasis is on foot skills, ball control, speed and creativity.

In this fast-paced game, where it’s played more by feel than thinking, the trio was the ideal team. First, they knew each other well and could play on their instincts, and secondly they had all bases covered. Bethel is a striker, Zeller is a midfielder and Allen is a defender. They had a little something of everything.

They would find out that having been teammates for the last five years was a big advantage.

“It really does help,” said Bethel of the trio’s experience together. “We communicated a lot.

“Because of how close we are, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” he added. “We mirror what each other is doing.”

It didn’t take the trio long to discover, however, what wins games is defense.

“We were better at getting pressure on the other teams,” said Zeller. “Most of our goals came off our defense.”

Bethel pointed out that he and Zeller played up top, pressuring the ball, looking to force a mistake that they could capitalize on. Having a defender as good as Allen, he noted, allowed them to play more aggressively.

Goals did not come easily, especially against Allen, Bethel and Zeller. They did not permit a goal in any game at any time all along their path to the national championship.

In the tournament, if games are tied after three minutes, an extra one-minute period is played, minus one player. If still tied, that is followed by one-on-one soccer until a goal is scored. One time during their championship run, the trio went to overtime and it came down to one-on-one, with Bethel getting the Golden Goal and the team advancing.

“You have to keep your shots low,” he said. “You have to shoot quick and go for the corners.”

After winning the qualifying tournament at GoodSports, the players were not packing their bags for Venice Beach. They didn’t expect to get through the Regional Tournament in Corona Park, Queens, N.Y. But something happened midway through the tournament: the boys realized that they were as good as anyone else.

“We began to think this could be fun,” said Allen.

And it was. Allen, Bethel and Zeller won the Regional and were off for Venice Beach, where again they had no expectations of advancing.

“We went to California thinking we’d get killed,” said Bethel. “We didn’t think we’d have a chance.”

Playing on the outdoor basketball courts that line Venice Beach, the New Jersey trio again found that no one was any better than they were, and no one was solving their defense. They kept moving on until there was no one else to beat and they were the national champions.

“The feeling is so great,” said Allen. “I can’t even explain it.”

Next stop of the summer Joga 3 tour: Rio de Janeiro, where players from 39 countries will be competing in Nike’s largest Global event (more than 3 million players around the world competed).

Brazil is the standard for soccer, and the boys are looking forward to the opportunity to play in a country where soccer is so huge and so appreciated.

“It’s pretty sweet getting to go down to Brazil and play,” said Zeller. “Oh yes, I’m really looking forward to it.”

Allen, Bethel and Zeller will be the only U.S. team in the tournament. They will be competing, literally, against the world.

“We’ll be playing other countries, like the World Cup,” said Allen. “It’s great to be playing for the USA.”

Along with competing in the tournament, there is another reward for the locals: they will get to practice with the Brazilian national team.

It all adds up to a summer of soccer that the local trio won’t likely forget.