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Fruzen eighth grader Banks Denu and Cunningham eighth grader Jared Barajas, compete with their Rockford Raptors soccer team in Portugal

BELOIT—The memory of a whirlwind trip to Portugal with his soccer team won’t fade anytime soon for Beloiter Banks Denu.

Particularly one shining moment.

Playing against Paris Saint-Germain—the team his father describes as the New York Yankees of European youth soccer—Banks delivered the winning free kick in a 1-0 victory at the Pauleta Azores Soccer Cup U13 International Tournament.

Only problem, the eight grader from Fruzen Intermediate School didn’t see it. But he sure knew it found the net.

“I didn’t know it went in until my teammates came around me and everyone was going crazy,” he said.

That goal was obviously the highlight for Banks and his father Brian, who is head coach of the boys soccer team at Beloit Memorial High School.

Banks and fellow Beloiter Jared Barajas (an eighth grader at Cunningham Intermediate School) play for the Rockford Raptors team that received an invitation to the exclusive tournament and picked up a few players from Dubuque, Iowa, for the trip. They played five games in two days and finished fifth.

“It was short, but sweet,” Brian Denu said of the trip.

Banks and his team dropped their opener to one of the four professional club teams in the field, Sporting of Lisbon by a 5-2 score.

“That one could have been worse,” Brian Denu said. “Our goalie played his best game and he ended up being named the top goalie in the tournament.”

The Raptors won their second game in pool play, 6-1 over CdF Pauleta B.

While the team generally plays 11-on-11, this tournament was 7-on-7. Denu said the team need to make some quick adjustments.

“We went in thinking we were going to play with two defenders back in a 2-3-1 formation,” Denu said. “We figured that out wasn’t going to work so we went to three defenders. That made life a little tougher on Banks and the other center midfielder, but they figured it out.”

This tournament was all about adjusting. They played less than 24 hours after arriving at the airport at 6 a.m.

“We took a nap, had a workout, took another nap and then had the opening ceremonies,” Denu said.

The Raptors fell to FC Porto 4-0 in the quarterfinals. That team went on to win the tournament.

“Their closest game was 3-0,” Denu said.

“They had a kid who wasn’t that big, but he was really good, the best we saw,” Banks said. “He was very fast and very good with both feet. It was fun playing against teams that had players like that.”

The Raptors then defeated GD Sao Roque 6-4 to advance to the fifth-place match against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), the largest soccer academy in the field.

Denu said the PSG players probably attend school about two hours a day and the rest of the time is in training for soccer.

“It’s a different world and you really have to love it not to burn out,” Denu said. “But the passion they have for soccer there is unbelievable.”

The incentive for the players on the top teams is to maintain their positions on teams or set themselves up for playing on professional teams someday. Balancing the personal motivations with team goals can’t be easy, Denu said..

“Maybe that’s the reason that PSG always seems to be the team everyone thinks should win this tournament, but they never do,” Denu said. “When you’re always vying for a spot on a club, who knows? They were physically more gifted than us, but they didn’t really move the ball all that well against us. Maybe there is more ‘me’ than ‘we’ going on there.”

Banks has a tournament coming up outside Chicago and then his soccer season will be over. A basketball player as well, he might even have some time for that.

“We had a month where we were in Texas, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and Minneapolis on successive weekends,” Denu said. “We also went to Orlando and Cincinnati this year for showcases.”

Not to mention the trip to Portugal.

“When he gets old enough to talk to college coaches he’ll be able to talk about playing against the top players in the world at that age,” Denu said. “It was just a tremendous experience.”

Source: Beloit Daily News