RALEIGH — It’s rarely a good sign after a youth soccer game if the coach yells, “Line up!”
And it wasn’t for Andre Fortune’s U-12 boys after their game in Raleigh on Saturday.
It meant sprints.
Fortune’s Cary-based team dominated its opponent from Jacksonville 7-1. But they did so in a “disappointing effort,” the coach said.
The former soccer agent and UNC-Pembroke player says the intensity of his program, Inter Development Futbol, is part of training young players “in a professional environment.”
The players didn’t complain, nor did the parents.
It might be because the team went undefeated in North Carolina Youth Soccer Association play last fall.
Or maybe it’s because they’ll soon get the rare chance to play in England against youth teams run by professional soccer clubs.
Fortune and his squad of 11- and 12-year-olds plan to leave for London on Thursday to play “academy” teams for Manchester City FC, Leicester City FC and Norwich City FC over a stretch of 10 days.
His players can’t wait.
“It’s an honor to go play professional teams in England,” said Shane DeLeon, 12. “It’s a good chance to see how technical they are and how fast they play.”
The Triangle has long been a hub for youth soccer. More than 74,000 children play in leagues under the state soccer association, which was founded in 1976. But observers say the competition has improved over the years.
“The quality of play is so much better than it was when I started (officiating) 15 years ago,” referee Reid Holmes said.
It’s not unusual for American youth soccer teams to play matches in Europe – if they’re good.
“But usually, you don’t get invited until you’re 15 or 16,” said referee Dustin Wenzel.
Fortune, 47, said his team partly got the opportunity to play overseas because he knows someone who works with Manchester City.
“I told him about our team, and he came to see how we play,” Fortune said.
His connections also helped to pay for the trip. Manchester City donated a jersey worn and signed by its forward, Sergio “Kun” Aguero, an international superstar.
Inter Development Futbol raised money by raffling off the jersey. About 40 families sold 20 tickets each at $10 per ticket, said Sherry Fortune, Andre Fortune’s wife.
European soccer clubs are willing to play American teams to get better, and also to scout talent.
“They know that one day the talent in this country is gonna go boom,” referee Bill McIntyre said.
Ted Armour said he didn’t think twice about sending his 11-year-old son, Adam, overseas to play soccer.
“(Fortune) stresses good technique and critical thinking,” he said. “It’s also a character-building exercise. They have tremendous respect for him.”
Armour said his son was recently pouting about doing something he didn’t want to do.
“I told him, ‘Treat me like you treat coach Andre,’ ” Armour said. “It made a difference immediately.”
Fortune’s players know every practice and every game counts.
“We’re trying to give them the same experience that kids in other parts of the world are having,” said Fortune, a Trinidad and Tobago native. “It’s organized, intense, informative.”
From a distance, Fortune’s players look like any other youth soccer team.
They aren’t big for their age, and they aren’t necessarily fancy; the teams sometimes practice on a small field in the corner of the MacGregor Village parking lot.
But up close, there’s a “significant difference,” said Mark Webster, whose son, Bryson, plays for the U-13 team.
Webster watched from the sidelines Thursday as the 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds practiced together.
They played keep-away, passing the ball to a teammate in one or two quick touches.
“They are a lot more disciplined and a lot more focused on fundamentals than others I’ve seen,” Webster said.
Fortune’s teams practice three times a week for 10 months, and the practices usually end with intense rounds of sit-ups, push-ups and sprints.
Asked how intense practices are after the team loses, Webster said, “You know, I can’t remember the last time they lost.”
Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht