It’s September 2009. Two teams of 3-year-olds are playing in one of their first organized soccer games. Some of the kids are holding their parents’ hands as they’re directed to pass the ball around.
But one kid stood out among the group of preschoolers: Seaside (Calif.) native Sekou Mathews. He quickly weaved and dribbled around the field, passing well and scoring at will.
“After about the fifth goal, everyone kind of stopped cheering,” Mathews’ mother Liza Linsao said.
Nine years later, Mathews has continued to excel for a club team, the Monterey County Futbol Club, and earned an invitation to Spain to train with arguably the biggest soccer team in the world, FC Barcelona.
A child prodigy
Mathews first learned the game from watching and emulating his brother, Cy, seven years his senior.
Cy, a Palma graduate and current sophomore at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, taught him some of the ins and outs of the game, hence his domination on the field as a three-year-old.
“After that first game we had him moved up to a higher age group,” Linsao said. “Just so it was a more level field. I felt bad about him being in that first group.”
Cy’s practice helped the younger Mathews keep up with the older kids. He made an impact despite his smaller stature.
By the time he hit grade school, Mathews was garnering attention for his exploits on a number of fields including soccer, football, basketball and track.
But shortly after his 10th birthday, Mathews made up his mind to narrow his athletic exploits to just one sport.
An incredible invite
Knowing the skills he has, Linsao and his father, Trevino Mathews, signed him up for a San Francisco FC Barcelona camp in July.
“We drove up there every single day,” Linsao said. “There were coaches there, scouts there, everything.”
This was one of 33 camps the club hosts nationwide to find youth talent to add to their academy. Five thousand kids participate every year in the camps and only 180 are chosen for invitation to the club’s facilities in Barcelona for a 10-day training session in November, roughly six per camp.
A few weeks passed after the camp and, assuming he hadn’t made the cut, Mathews’ focus went to the next soccer camp to improve his skills.
“We’d pretty much given up on it,” Linsao said. “But then I got a text that said, ‘check your email. Your son was selected to train at FC Barcelona.’ “
The whole family was elated. Their hopes had been confirmed — Mathews is among the best in the country at his age.
“It feels mind-blowing and awesome to play somewhere that I’ve always had dreams of being able to play at,” Mathews said.
At a cost
The joy of his invitation came coupled with some worry. A 10-day trip to Barcelona on a couple month’s notice would likely be expensive.
The cost of Mathews’ training, tours, career workshops and room and board is $2,700. Then there’s the family package, including hotel and food for the family members accompanying the players, that costs another $1,900. Linsao and Mathews’ two-year-old brother are coming along, she explained, as Mathews’ father works for UPS and wouldn’t be able to take time off during the holidays.
Then there’s also the three round-trip tickets to Barcelona — no small fee in itself.
To help cover the costs of the trip, Mathews’ family set up a GoFundMe page titled “Send Sekou to train at FC Barcelona.” As of Tuesday night, they were $1,000 short of their goal, but Linsao is pleasantly surprised by the support.
“Coaches from his past have reached out and donated hundreds of dollars,” she said. “Former teachers, even strangers. It’s so crazy how GoFundMe works.”
“We feel like it’s so important for him to go because he needs the exposure,” Linsao said. “He’s just so talented. Even if he doesn’t get an invitation to play for Barcelona, he can make some connections there and that could lead to a host of things.”