skip to content
From North America to Vila-real, swapping ‘soccer’ for ‘football’
From North America to Vila-real, swapping ‘soccer’ for ‘football’

Atley, Kassandra and Giulia train at Miralcamp thanks to Villarreal Academy’s agreement with their respective academies

Three North American teenagers have had the opportunity to spend a season competing with Villarreal CF’s teams thanks to the selection process among the Villarreal Academy project’s partner academies. Atley Whyrick, 18, from Nebraska, Kassandra Ruelas, 18 (Texas) and Giulia, 16 (Vancouver) were awarded the chance to live this experience as part of the Player Development Program. The three young players live in shared apartments or with a host family, study at the British School of Vila-real or Spanish classes, attend Spanish classes and train under the Yellows Academy methodology.

“The atmosphere here is great. The coaches and the rest of the staff are very attentive to me and give me what I need to be successful. In addition, all the players from different places have made me feel very supported and welcome from the beginning. The coaches are more concerned about the development of the players than about winning,” explains Atley about her adaptation to the José Manuel Llaneza Training Ground and the training model.

For her part, Kassandra, who lives with the same family as Atley and knows the language because of her Mexican ancestry, has fallen in love with the town and its people’s love of football: “I loved the town, which is very small, but there is a great love of football. The first day when I arrived, which was a Sunday lunchtime, we went straight to the match and the stadium was full. I was surprised because I had always heard that Vila-real was a very small town and to see that stadium full was shocking. I’m still getting to know the town with the family who have taken me in.”

Both see it as a luxury to live a five-minute walk from a stadium that has seen magical nights with the Submarine playing in the best competitions on the planet. “The town reminds me a lot of my own in Mexico because everyone knows each other and that makes me feel at home,” confesses Kassandra.

Changing ‘soccer’ for ‘football’

The three young North Americans agree on the higher level they have experienced in Vila-real compared to their training in the United States and Canada. “Football was born in Europe and you can see that it’s not ‘soccer’ but ‘football’. There is more possession, they try to keep the ball and it is not so direct. It’s more tactical and less physical. Seeing such young kids in the Training Ground with so much intensity impresses me,” says Giulia.

Kassandra, in this respect, goes further and explains why she believes the Yellows Academy teams have such a good understanding: “Compared to the United States, the level of football here is higher. In all the camps when I come to train I see young kids and then many of them play together until they are older. In my team, most of them have always played together or have even been rivals in the same leagues and that is noticeable and helps to improve the level. It’s more common to change teams there. Also, I love the intensity.”

Working alongside stars

If there is one thing that Atley, Kassandra and Giulia agree on, it is the proximity to the players and the luxury of being able to see the first team players and the Villarreal Women’s players train on a daily basis and even meet them and share some moments with them thanks to their coaches. Kassandra likes Parejo and Trigueros for the way they ‘play with the ball and dominate games without being tall or strong’, while Atley believes that ‘Capoue is the best’. Giulia admires Villarreal Women’s left-back Raquel Morcillo.