Soccer has never been more popular in Canada, and one local boy is ready to do his part to be the face of the footy scene.
Benson Maduro turned 11 years old in July and he has already made a name for himself in some international soccer hot spots.
Living on the border of Innisfil and Barrie, the Hyde Park Public School student has been playing soccer since he was four, starting with the Barrie Soccer Club and now with Inter Academy Toronto, where he plays Division 1 soccer.
Maduro recently qualified to represent Canada at the 2024 Real Madrid Foundation World Challenge in Spain. He was among a handful of players selected for the international tournament at a qualifier in Toronto this summer.
“What I love about soccer is when you score a goal, and when it is just yourself and the ball, you get to do what is in your mind,” he said. “I like celebrating with my teammates when one of us scores a goal.”
He is excited to be going to the world challenge next year as his favourite team is Real Madrid, while his favourite player is the icon, Pelé.
His mom, Michelle, said Maduro started dribbling the ball when he could walk and showed a real interest, and skill, for the game.
“We never pushed him that way but definitely encouraged him when he showed a great interest. Because of his early attraction to the game, he often plays in age levels above him,” she said. “He’s heading to Ottawa next week for a tournament that is for 13- to 18-year-olds.”
Word of mouth helps to get players noticed, and Michelle said her son’s social media presence helped.
“He doesn’t run the account — my husband does — but during the pandemic, when only one parent was allowed to attend any of his games ... we’d record it for the other,” she said. “Then family and friends wanted to see, and so we posted Benson’s journey in the game on social media. It just took off from there.”
As an attacking midfielder, Maduro was scoring lots of goals and playing an exciting brand of soccer, which led to the account’s more than 1,500 followers.
The event in Spain next year will be held at the Real Madrid first team’s official training grounds, Ciudad Real Madrid, in March and it will be an international affair with many kids representing different countries.
“They run it once a year, and the coaches spend a week with the kids, assessing them, doing drills and playing games. They evaluate and help the kids see where they are, skills-wise,” said Michelle. “He played in Spain last year for a different event, and it’s quite different with European children as they are more rough on the ball, but Benson held his own quite well and learned a lot.”
Maduro is a well-rounded athlete as he also runs track and is on the basketball team at his school. But soccer is where he is making a name for himself, and he has already had a taste of international competition. Last year he competed in, and placed, at a tournament in Barcelona.
Later this year, he will play at the IberCup in Brazil, as an invited guest, and he was selected to compete at the All-American Golden Cup in Florida in December.
Maduro is enjoying his time as a travelling soccer player.
“It’s very exciting. My favourite part is the plane rides,” he said. “I like the longest-distance travelling because it’s like you have more time to be excited about getting there.”
Michelle said she puts no pressure on her children for their futures and just “wants them to be happy with whatever they do.”
Maduro is not only loving soccer, but has goals for his future.
“I want to be a professional soccer player and play for Team Canada and win all kinds of awards,” he said.