Local Spotlight

Local Spotlight: Joel Sobalbarro, teenage traveling soccer stalwart

Photo courtesy of U.S. Club Soccer

Editor’s note: Local Spotlight is a feature of the sort we’ve wanted to do for a long time, shining a light on interesting people throughout the local soccer scene. For years, we did this to a degree with our Philadelphians Abroad feature, but we’re hoping this can go deeper and prove more fulfilling. New PSP writer Matt McClain kicks us off.

Joel Sobalbarro has more stamps in his passport than most.

The fifteen-year-old’s tremendous soccer skills have sent him around the world from his home in the Trenton area, and his hard work has been paying off as of late. He recently returned from a trip to Spain that ended in historic fashion for him and his team.

His story is worth sharing.

Beginnings and growth

Sobalbarro first picked up the sport at the age of four, taking after his two older brothers. When asked if he fell in love with the game immediately, Sobalbarro’s response is a flat, “No,” followed by a chuckle. Four-year-old Joel saw soccer as a simple running game with little fun, but once he began to learn more about the ins and outs of the sport, he recounts, he began to really enjoy it. By age eight, he was gaining the skills to go with his new game knowledge.

As Sobalbarro continued to play, he attracted attention. His play on the field has allowed him to play with Match Fit Academy and NextGen USA against top competition, including powerhouse youth clubs Real Madrid, Ajax Amsterdam, Paris Saint Germain, Borussia Dortmund, Glasgow Celtic, Club Brugge, and Bayern Leverkusen. Joel and his team narrowly missed an opportunity to play in the quarterfinals of the U13 Champions League tournament in Belgium after surrendering too many losses in group play.

At such a young age, Sobalbarro enjoys the same success in the classroom as he does on the pitch.. He attends a local soccer school where time management is not an issue. The school also requires all players keep up on their studies, he insists. He likes the idea of studying athletic training or a similar topic in the future.

US id2 National U14 Team

In late 2016, Sobalbarro was invited to a training camp with US Club Soccer id2, an Olympic Development Program for youth soccer across the country.

“It was a great experience,” Sobalbarro says. “I was able to make to make some friends as well.”

Those friends were made from the more than 220 players at id2, of which Joel was selected as a top player. After being invited to another training session in December, Joel was selected for the id2 National Selection Tour 2017 final team roster, finding out in a rather indirect way.

“One day, I went on social media,” he said, “and they had posted a picture of me saying I had been announced as part of the roster!”

The 2017 Mediterranean International Cup

After the announcement, Sobalbarro and his US id2 National U14 teammates traveled to La Costa Brava, Spain, to compete for the first time in the 2017 Mediterranean International Cup, a top youth soccer tournament consisting of both club and national selection squads which represent over 40 nationalities. The MIC lasts five days and consists of roughly 596 matches and 29 stadiums throughout 22 towns.

US id2 was placed in Category C, Group G along with teams from Spain, Israel, and China. The qualifying round took place April 12-13. The id2 U14s played three games, winning them all by a combined score of 14-0. Playoffs were the next day, and once again they crushed their competition in two games, winning 4-0 and then 1-0.

April 15th was id2’s monumental moment. The team appeared in a quarterfinal showdown against Italian powerhouse FC Internazionale Milano (Inter Milan). The crew’s luck ran out, unfortunately, and they suffered a heartbreaking 4-2 loss in penalties.

However, with an appearance in the quarterfinals, the id2 team made history, becoming the first United States team to make it to the quarterfinals at the MIC in the tournament’s 17-year existence.

Here is another thing Sobalbarro can be proud of: Throughout the team’s 6 matches, they scored a total of 19 goals during regulation and let up zero.

Sobalbarro was a member of the brick-wall defense and midfield, having played midfield originally but ultimately moving to right back. There was a not-so-secret element to their success.

“We talked a lot,” Sobalbarro said. “Communication was key.”

It wasn’t easy for Joel or his teammates to remain fresh playing six matches in half as many games.

“We would play a morning game, then drive to a beach along the Mediterranean Sea during a three hour break,” Sobalbarro said. “Then we would wade into the freezing cold water, waist deep for about five minutes, as an ice bath type thing.”

After their impromptu ice baths, the team would board a bus to continue playing their scheduled afternoon games.

Sobalbarro’s favorite moments occurred off the pitch in Spain. The team traveled around the region visiting antiquities, and Sobalbarro described the old cathedrals and churches that remain as beautiful as the day they were constructed. Id2 staff recognized a unique opportunity to add a splash of history and culture the trip for the teens to take back with them.

The pinnacle of the trip for Joel and probably most of his teammates was a trip to Camp Nou for a Barcelona-Real Sociedad game. Sobalbarro struggled to find the words to describe the atmosphere inside the stadium.

“The environment was craziness,” he said. “I had never seen or imagined anything like it.”

As for Sobalbarro’s future plans, he envisions success playing soccer with aspirations of making it as a professional. His next chance to experience international play may come as soon as next month as trips to Belgium are in the works with NextGen USA as well as possible further opportunities with US id2. The world is a big place, but Sobalbarro’s talent in soccer is giving him the chance to see it.


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    THIS IS STELLAR. I Love it. More Please.

  2. Soccer has presented Joel with the chance to travel the world and to make friends that he might never have met except through the beautiful game.
    Nice to read that this young man is working hard, on the field and in the classroom, and taking full advantage of such wonderful opportunities.

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