By James Clark
With the cold winds and gray skies of winter still hanging around, you wouldn't think it's soccer season. But thanks to two indoor facilities operating in southern New Jersey, both kids and adults can play the game they love year-round.
Euro Sports Center in Egg Harbor City and Gaetano Indoor Soccer in Newfield provide cold-weather refuge for hundreds of players to hone their skills and keep a foot on the ball until spring's warm weather arrives.
Euro Sports Center is a marvel to behold, with its 225-by-120-feet, synthetic-turf field housed under a 38-feet-tall "bubble" structure similar to the indoor practice facility of the Philadelphia Eagles. The field size is ideal for 8 vs. 8 games, which give a youth player the chance to practice a unique set of skills that are transferrable to the outdoor game.
Co-owners John O'Brien and Spiros Gaitanos, immigrants from Ireland and Greece, respectively, opened Euro Sports Center in spring 2007. Next to Arsenal team scarves and Chelsea jerseys for sale, a snack bar and arcade offer needed diversions for some of the players' younger siblings who come to watch.
"There is a high demand for soccer in our area," says O'Brien, who often serves as a "floating" player in the adult leagues. "Our facility fills that need, and the word-of-mouth business we generate continues to grow. Once you come and play here, you will be hooked."
While Euro Sports Center is a relatively new kid on the block, the family-run Gaetano Indoor Soccer was opened in 1986 by Italian immigrant Frank Gaetano Sr. Housed in two buildings, the fields at Gaetano Indoor Soccer have walls around them. The style of play is similar to watching the Philadelphia Kixx indoor-soccer team that plays at the Wachovia Spectrum.
Tim Donnelly, an Egg Harbor Township resident, has coached various teams during winter sessions at Gaetano Indoor Soccer over the years. This winter, he saw a team mostly made up of boys he coaches on an outdoor club from Mainland United -- including his son, Adam -- play very well in the U-10 indoor league.
"It's a nice change for the kids," he says. "It gives them something to look forward to in the so-called offseason. The walls at Gaetano make the game quicker, which is something the kids enjoy."
Linwood resident Sam Nutile has two sons, Tyler and Nick, who play for Donnelly at Gaetano Indoor Soccer. Nutile likes the fact that life-size posters of great AC Milan teams from the past greet the boys as they arrive for their matches.
"It gives the kids a sense of the history of the game," Nutile says. Donnelly's son also plays on a team at Euro Sports Center, and the coach in Donnelly sees the benefits of that. "I like both buildings -- Euro Sports Center and Gaetano Indoor Soccer," he says. "It really is the best of both worlds. Playing without the walls at Euro Sports Center brings the flair of the outdoor game into the equation. It's good preparation for the spring outdoor season."
Typically, the South Jersey Soccer Leagues' outdoor seasons for boys and girls run from September through November. Eight-week indoor sessions at both Euro Sports Center and Gaetano Indoor Soccer begin in early December, with another starting in late January. That latter session takes the kids right up to the SJSL outdoor seasons, which begin in March and run through May. Most summers see elite players participating in tournaments, attending camps and playing beach soccer.
For coaches who wish to enter teams in these eight-week winter sessions, the cost is $500 at Gaetano Indoor Soccer and $650 plus referee's fees at Euro Sports Center. The year-round 18-and-over and 30-and-over men's leagues that take place evenings at Euro Sports Center cost $850 per team plus referee's fees. There are also pay-as-you-play pickup leagues at Euro Sports Center.
Coaches and clubs looking to escape the cold and rent space for practices can also rent field space at either facility. The cost is $90 per hour at Gaetano Indoor Soccer and $225 per hour at Euro Sports Center.
The South Jersey Barons, the area's premier soccer club, have made use of Euro Sports Center for training players from their academy as well as for open sessions geared toward improving a player's first touch of the ball.
"Their facility is a valuable asset in helping to develop the game," says Scott Middlemass, the Barons' youth-academy technical director. "You can go there to play any time without having to worry about what the weather might throw at you."
GETTING HIS INDOOR FIX
A staunch Real Madrid and Chelsea fan, Holak's dedication to the sport breeds the kind of soccer consumer that allows places like Euro Sports Center and Gaetano Indoor Soccer in Newfield not only to survive, but thrive.
"As a youth-soccer coach, Euro Sports Center is definitely a unique and exciting option," Holak says. "It provides a great opportunity for soccer players to play the game year-round. Having access to Gaetano Indoor Soccer is a good thing, too."
Whether he's playing or coaching, Holak has some advice about what type of equipment to bring along to the "field under the bubble" at Euro Sports Center.
"Their synthetic-turf field is best-suited for indoor shoes, but many players choose to wear turf shoes instead," he says. "But one thing neither adults nor kids should ever forget is their shin guards."
Euro Sports Center 1524 Grant St., Egg Harbor City 609-965-8080, http://www.eurosportscenter.com/