Gotham FC, Cougar SC host clinic for 120 kids at New Waterlands

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By Mike Connolly

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Gotham FC defender Sabrina Flores has traveled around the world as a professional soccer player. But on Friday night, Oct. 7, the weed-filled mud of New Waterlands Park was a homecoming for the Livingston native.

Coaching more than 120 local soccer players in a clinic conducted by Gotham FC and Cougar Soccer Club, Flores remembered playing in Maplewood and South Orange as a member of the Livingston Soccer Club.

“I definitely played on this field,” she said. “I was just a kid trying to play soccer. I don’t remember the league or the tournament or the wins and the losses. I just remember it was a lot of fun.”

Flores and three other Gotham FC pros – Kelly Ann Livingstone, Delanie Sheehan, and Taryn Torres – ran the players through drills, games, and scrimmages.

“The kids were so lively and fun,” said Livingstone, who grew up in Glen Ridge. “There are a wide variety of people who love Gotham and come out to the games. It was great to see all these kids who know our names and just love soccer and want to play soccer.”

Kori Washignton with Gotham FC speaks to clinic attendees before the start of the Gotham FC/Cougar Soccer Club camp at New Waterlands Park in South Orange on October 7, 2022. Washington led the camp that featured Gotham FC players (left to right) Delanie Sheehan, Sabrina Flores, Taryn Torres and Kelly Ann Livingstone.

The clinic nearly got washed out by poor field conditions at DeHart Park. The clinic was originally scheduled for DeHart but the field was closed by Maplewood for the entire week following the weekend rains. South Orange found some space at New Waterlands – and the clinic was held. Unlike many towns in New Jersey, South Orange and Maplewood do not have any turf fields in public parks, following Maplewood voters’ rejection of the Town Council’s 4-1 vote in favor of installing turf at DeHart Park.

“I can’t believe they did that,” said Becki Tweed, Gotham FC and U20 women’s national team assistant coach. “That’s outrageous.”

Gotham FC has been conducting clinics across New York and New Jersey and the Maplewood/South Orange clinic was the second largest this year.

In addition to the players and assistant coach Tweed, Gotham FC general manager Yael Averbuch and goalkeeper coach Brody Sams attended the clinic.

“I think it’s really important for visibility for boys and girls,” Tweed said. “Everyone’s career begins on a field like this. They can be inspired by the players out here today. They can be inspired by the people that love the game as much as you do.”

Many Cougar players had previously attended two Gotham FC games as part of the partnership between the youth club and the pro club. Cougar players even had the chance to stand on the field during warmups of one of the games. But the chance to actually play with professionals, get autographs and pose for selfies was a whole new level of fun.

“I always try to put myself into their shoes and think of how cool it would have been to get coached by a pro and interact with them,” Sheehan said. “I’m so happy to be able to be out with them and give them that chance.”

The clinic with professional players is part of Cougar Soccer Club’s goal of increasing opportunities for local soccer players. It worked with South Orange Rec to bring back recreation soccer this fall and Cougar volunteers line the fields on Floods Hill, Cameron Field, Borden Park and DeHart Park for use by the rec teams, high school teams and Cougar teams.

“We saw this partnership as an opportunity for Cougar Soccer Club to support this community,” said Mike Mingenhelli, president of Cougar Soccer Club. “We’ve been teaching soccer and leadership skills in this community for more than 50 years and this is another example of the ways we support children in these two towns.”

Flores hopes that perhaps someday, one of the kids at the clinic will also be able to remember getting their start at New Waterlands.

It’s so important for the kids to see us,” Flores said. “That’s why we play. Hopefully it’s inspiring to the kids to say ‘maybe that could be me someday.’ It’s also inspiring for us to have a bigger purpose for why we play.”

Photos Courtesy of Ida Wainschel