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Innovation LA demonstration team aims to build interest in freestyling

07/20/2017, 6:45pm CDT
By Patrick Malin, Media Intern

Alexander Mendoza is a pioneer and national champion in the unique and riveting sport of freestyle soccer. Freestyling is an artistic portrayal of the beautiful game, where freestylers wow crowds with miraculous juggling tricks and physics-defying feats of ball control unparalleled in the professional game.  Mendoza and his Innovation LA freestyle team put their “tekkers” on display on soccer’s largest stages, aiming to highlight a spectacular aspect of the world’s most popular sport. 

America’s top freestyler, Alex Mendoza, performs an around-the-world at the USA CUP activities Hub.

Schwan’s USA CUP welcomed Mendoza’s Innovation LA freestyle team, heralded as the top American freestyle squad, for the past two days. The duo of Mendoza and Lisa Calderon dazzled USA CUP participants with an arsenal of tricks and skills.

“Overall it was great, the atmosphere was great, so I loved it. It was really cool to experience such a massive tournament,” said Mendoza.

However, Mendoza’s visit to USA CUP primarily focused on getting youth soccer players motivated to engage in the freestyle community, and to practice skills on their own.

“The main motive for coming to tournaments like this is always trying to teach the kids. When I see them with a smile, it seems like they’re super into it, and if they stick around I know they want to learn. Watching them learn from one trick to another and loving the sport is the main reason why I come to these tournaments,” Mendoza said.   

Mendoza consistently engaged in conversation with his crowds, explaining to young players how he got started doing freestyle, providing tips for beginner level tricks to work on at home and walking through his spectacular maneuvers.

“The main focus that a lot of people are trying to do is the juggling, but I understand that the juggling itself is kind of boring. So I try to teach them the fundamentals of how to touch the ball, and then I try to teach them a simple trick that is still a trick, but does not include anything juggling-wise, where you don’t have to have any experience playing soccer to do it,” Mendoza said.

“I go for the fundamentals, the easiest stuff, and then a trick to let them know that it is never too late to learn one trick or two, and that it’s fun. It’s not something that you have to put in thousands of hours like I do, whenever you have time and you have a ball, you just go for it,” Mendoza added. 

Lisa Calderon from the Innovation LA freestylers expertly performed juggling tricks on her back at USA CUP.

Jakob Popkin, a young soccer player in attendance at Innovation LA’s demonstration on Thursday afternoon, was putting his own skills on display alongside Mendoza and Calderon. Popkin just returned from Kansas City, MO where he played in Futsal Nationals with his team from Hawaii. The aspiring professional soccer player has over 5,000 followers on Instagram, where he posts his own videos doing freestyle soccer tricks.

“I just feel like you can do anything you want, whatever you feel like is your style. Whether it’s doing around-the-worlds, stalls or any trick you like,” Popkin said.

Popkin met the Innovation LA freestylers in California when he was on a trip with his soccer team, affirming his interest in further developing his toolbox of soccer skills.

“I decided to learn tricks because I started getting really high numbers just normally juggling, like I would keep up the ball 10,000 times. I decided I didn’t want to go any higher, so I thought I would try something else,” Popkin said.

Popkin believes that honing his freestyle tricks has helped him in normal match play. “It definitely helps your touch,” he commented. 

Freestylers Teaching- Mendoza and Calderon’s trip to USA CUP focused on teaching young players how to do basic freestyle tricks.

Mendoza provides an excellent mentor for Popkin, who engaged in a one-on-one dribbling battle with the young player. Mendoza is ranked as the number one freestyler in America, and was named the USA Freestyle Champion in 2016. He has appeared in several advertisements for Honda, and has also worked with Budweiser, AT&T and Adidas.

“I’ve been doing freestyle for about 12 years. I am one of the top five in the whole world that started doing freestyle, so I’ve been doing this for a really long time now. I am one of the pioneers of the sport,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza proved he could perform moves on all surfaces when gloomy weather forced the freestylers into the Expo Center on Wednesday.

Mendoza had faith that the sport would blossom into a world-wide phenomenon, which motivated him to continue to hone his craft. “I have always really loved the sport, even before it got popular or when people were just saying it was just circus tricks,” Mendoza said. “I was still doing it. That pushed me forward.”

Innovation LA is hoping to develop the freestyle soccer scene in the United States, which is lagging significantly behind the wide-spread interest the sport receives in Europe and Asia. Mendoza believes performances like those at the USA CUP will encourage young soccer players to try freestyle and further engage in the freestyle community.

“What we try to do is to make it really fun for them, where they can go back and get these easy tricks, and get really excited and want to keep doing it,” Mendoza said. “When it is live, it is much easier to motivate a kid to want to keep learning, and just have fun with it.”

Tag(s): July 20, 2017