Skills squad photo gallery

By Daniel Prager, 17, Crossroads School
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Having a ball. Moises Salinas, 18, demonstrates his signature trick of trapping the ball between his shin and foot.
Photo by Leonardo Moran, 16, Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies

On a sunny afternoon at Villa Park, a small neighborhood park in Pasadena, the Nike Skills Squad rolled up in their van full of energy, enthusiasm and awe-inspiring soccer skills. Their mission: to get their audience excited about street soccer.
The Skills Squad’s members immediately connected with their eager audience, mostly made up of young kids. They asked them to circle up and started off by each doing a trick. Moises Salinas, 18, a senior at Roosevelt High School, went first. He took the soccer ball and trapped it between the top of his foot and his shin, moving it back and forth at fast speeds. Then the ball was passed to him in the air and he caught it between the top of his shoe and his shin. This amazed me. In my 10 years as a soccer player, I had never seen anybody do this. The crowd went wild.

Salinas and the other Nike Skills Squad members, who are in their 20s, were selected from a tryout of more than 800. Three or four days each week the squad members travel around Southern California leading clinics and demonstrations. The five members of the squad are Salinas of Boyle Heights, Tim Donnelly of Long Beach, Lawrence Smalls of Pasadena, Lloyd Kinnear of Marina Del Ray and James Ortega of Beverly Hills.

Nike sponsors the squad and pays them to market street soccer. (Nike declined to specify how much money the members are paid.) Street-style soccer focuses on intricate footwork and difficult individual moves designed to break the ankles (well, almost) of your opponent. Street soccer, like street basketball, is rarely used in games. But like street basketball, street soccer explores the coolest tricks you can do.

Therefore, the players view this opportunity as something greater than just making money. All you need to practice street soccer is a ball and a roll of duct tape to mark off a goal against a wall. The van is covered in duct tape to promote this idea. By giving clinics to kids, the squad members make urban street soccer exciting and try to inspire kids to play soccer and stay away from trouble.

Not many 18-year-olds have the opportunity to gain the kind of exposure that Salinas does. However, while fun, Salinas said the Skills Squad is a lot of work. The hardest part for Salinas is performing in front of people. He said that he was especially nervous when he first started. He overcame that fear by staying focused on working toward his goal of a professional soccer career. In addition to performing and helping kids, Salinas said he loves playing ball with the guys every day. He gets ideas to show his friends and new moves to use on the soccer field. The Nike Skills Squad has given him recognition as well. When walking down the hall at school he is called "Nike boy."

Each clinic lasts about one hour. To fire the kids up, the Skills Squad gives a lot of goodies away. Each kid gets a small, size-1 ball, and lucky participants get a T-shirt. These giveaways create amazing reactions from the young kids; it’s hard to tell if they are more excited about the amazing display of soccer or free Nike gear. Being a Skills Squad member allows you to gain exposure, be a role model and be a salesman for Nike.