Marco Villa can remember actual soccer fields being at a minimum in the area of Central Mexico where he grew up.

What the neighborhood, located just outside Mexico City, did have was an abundance of streets, and when the traditional pitch wasn’t available, which as it turned out was quite often, Villa and his buddies would frequently turn to this makeshift alternative for a game.

color graphics current logo“That’s usually where we ended up playing,” Villa recalls. “Every three or four minutes a car would drive by and we would have to stop, but would pick right back up after it passed. That’s the great thing about soccer. You can play anywhere. We didn’t have a net. We didn’t need one. We would just place a rock on each side and call that our goal. We used anything but a soccer ball when we played.”

And Villa means anything. A popular practice was balling up some dirty clothes when nothing else would suffice.

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The Little Avengers, a team consisting of Braelyn Whitaker, Noel Fernandez, Colten Forcier, Kobe Bryant, Kolbe Marsh and Marco Villa, Jr., will play in Disney’s 3V3 National Soccer Tournament in January. Photo courtesy: Marco Villa.

“It didn’t always work out the best,” Villa said with a laugh about the laundry-based tactic of playing, “but if it was round we’d kick it. I absolutely loved it.”

As a sixth grader, Villa and his family moved to Lacey where he was enrolled at Woodland Elementary.

“It was a complete culture shock. Everything was different. I had never seen snow before,” said Villa, a 1989 Timberline graduate who now works for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. “I remember we arrived on a Monday and I was in school that Wednesday. I couldn’t speak English very well. They had this little Spanish dictionary out, trying to talk to me. It was difficult.”

Then recess hit and despite the language barrier, things became a touch easier.

“That first recess (the students) came up to me and handed me a soccer ball,” said a smiling Villa. “I remember thinking, ‘OK, this I know.’ And we just went out and played. Soccer actually really helped me make the transition here smoother. We didn’t have to talk and everyone understood what everyone was doing. It helped me build friends and become more comfortable. The sport has just stuck with me ever since.”

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The team will play Jan. 14-16 at the ESPN Sports Complex in Walt Disney World. Photo courtesy: Marco Villa.

Three decades later and Villa is applying that same approach as a youth soccer coach for the Chinqually Booters Soccer Club, using the sport he loves to help kids not only develop an athletic skill set and an understanding for the game, but also the feeling of friendship and family.

“When they’re young soccer is actually secondary,” said Villa, who began coaching three years ago when his son, Marco, Jr., first started playing at the age of 5. “When you first turn them loose, they start chasing squirrels and butterflies, everything but the ball.”

“It’s about teaching them teamwork and doing their best,” he said. “The best feeling in the world for me is when they are finally able to do something they have been practicing. They do it and they look at you and their eyes just light up.”

Villa saw the same expression on the faces of his Little Avengers team of 8-year-olds when he informed them they had advanced to the 3V3 National Soccer Championships Jan. 14-6 in Orlando.

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Coach Marco Villa stands with his team after they qualified for the national tournament. Photo courtesy: Marco Villa.

The team, which consists of Braelyn Whitaker, Noel Fernandez, Colten Forcier, Kobe Bryant, Kolbe Marsh and Villa’s son, will make the trip to Walt Disney World to participate in the national tournament.

“I told them we will either be playing a lot of soccer there if we win,” Villa said, “but if we lose early we will end up going to Disney World a lot. They were happy with both.”

To finance the Florida trip, the Little Avengers, through the help of parents such as Giselle O’Hara, have organized a variety of fundraising events and have set up their own Go Fund Me page.

In addition, whenever someone mentions the Little Avengers while paying their bill at Olympia’s Buffalo Wild Wings 10 percent of the bill will go towards funding the team’s trip to the national tournament.

“I love all sports, but for me soccer will always mean the most,” Villa said. “When I signed my son up for soccer (when he was 5) they asked if I was interested in coaching. I didn’t know what to expect, but said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I’ve enjoyed everything about it. I’ve had great kids and great parents to work with. I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”

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