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New Niagara Region soccer club finds 'common connection' on Caribbean island Antigua

A newly formed soccer club, which targets boys and girls in Niagara Region, has been forced to put all activities on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of its management say.

Coaching staff working with football club in Antigua on ‘a variety of opportunities’ for youth

Jaden Leandro (left) and Bert Lobo are members of the coaching staff of a newly formed soccer club, which targets boys and girls in Niagara Region. (Submitted by Jaden Leandro)

A newly formed soccer club, which targets boys and girls in Niagara Region, is collaborating with a club on the Caribbean Island of Antigua to provide opportunities for kids in both locations.

Bert Lobo, executive director of Generation Next F.C. Rebels, says there are exciting plans in the works for the kids, but it could be weeks before they can get the ball rolling.

Lobo said he was recently introduced to Ricky Santos, president of Generation Next Football Club (GNFC) Rebels in Antigua.

"We immediately found our common connection as we both have been providing opportunities for girls and boys to pursue their dreams through the playing of soccer, or football as it is known around the world," Lobo told CBC News.

"With this newly found association, we have moved forward with various initiatives including the formation of tournaments, university and professional showcases to display the talents of players looking to achieve successes in soccer, and also their academic lives."

Bert Lobo, executive director of Generation Next F.C. Rebels, says there are some exciting plans in the works for the kids, but it could be weeks before they can get the ball rolling. (Submitted by Bert Lobo)

According to Lobo, GNFC Rebels will offer participation in local and worldwide leagues and tournaments.  

He said GNFC Rebels players both in Canada and Antigua will have the added pathway of not only a possible university scholarship but also an opportunity to pursue professional options worldwide. 

Lobo is "very pleased to work with Ricky and GNFC Rebels and especially the expanding brand that they have built not only in Antigua but also in Spain and England."  

"GNFC Rebels, Niagara, will be unlike any other organization in the Niagara Region as options and opportunities provided by the GNFC brand have been successful not only in Antigua but other major soccer playing countries," he said.

COVID-19 puts brakes on activities

But Lobo says the club has been forced to put all activities on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We can't do anything," Lobo told CBC News.

"Right now everything is on total hold until we're able to get out there and start putting the teams together and training."

Lobo says right now he's deferring everything on a weekly and monthly basis.

"The objective is to put together teams to participate locally in different aspects — tournaments, leagues etc.,— once we can get going," Lobo said.

"The plan is to try and get it going but it's totally COVID-dependent.

"So, whether we are able to get going in March, April, May, June or July, I've got no idea but the objective is to put together some teams in several different age groups to participate in leagues or tournaments, whatever is available depending on what COVID allows," Lobo said.

Jaden Leando says, 'The news made me run up and down my apartment like I just scored a goal, I was so excited.' (Submitted by Jaden Leando)

Generation Next F.C. Rebels, Niagara, has also made another connection with Antigua. The Caribbean island is the homeland of its assistant coach, Jaden Leandro.

Leandro said he was scrolling social media one day when he saw a post that Generation Next F.C. Rebels was setting up a club for under 12 boys and girls in St. Catharines, where he lives.

He messaged them that same night offering his assistance to help with the team. 

After going through the process, Leandro was offered the post of assistant coach some weeks later.

"The news made me run up and down my apartment like I just scored a goal, I was so excited," Leandro told CBC News.

"I've been playing [soccer] since I can walk. It's been my passion since I was young and I was just so excited, I called my parents [in Antigua] right away and told them about it."

'There's no [soccer] now,' Leandro says

Leandro, who recently graduated from Brock University with a Bachelor's degree in recreation and leisure studies, says he too is disappointed that the pandemic has put a damper on their plans.

"I just got to go to two or three training sessions … but once the lockdown came into place everything was shut down so there's no [soccer] now," he said.

"We're just waiting for when we can start things back up."

Jaden Leandro says, 'In the future I would like to help Generation Next F.C. Rebels to provide children in Antigua and the Caribbean with more opportunities for [soccer] scholarships in Canada.' (Submitted by Jaden Leandro)

Leandro is hoping "to gain valuable coaching experience" in his new position and learn under Lobo head coach Pablo Gonzalez. 

He also plans on "offering my insights" and hopes to "run drills here and there throughout the sessions."

"In the future I would like to help Generation Next F.C. Rebels to provide children in Antigua and the Caribbean with more opportunities for [soccer] scholarships in Canada," Leandro said. 

"While also making my name as a coach here in Canada, I want to leave my mark on these young [soccer players] and push them to the next level [and] hopefully see a few of them go professional."

Lobo resides in the Niagara Region and has 35 years of experience in helping girls and boys gain success through soccer, both on and off the field.  

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