Soccer in Slow Motion

American Panna & Freestyle Tournament Will Come to the Berryessa Flea Market October 9-10
Photo Courtesy: American Panna & Freestyle Tournament

Arturo Hilario

El Observador

Look up any YouTube video of street soccer, freestyle or “panna” and you’ll get a seemingly endless amount of results, many of them with millions of views.

A mix of street soccer and highly technical and speedy footwork, the sport is wildly popular in other regions of the world. In the Bay Area Maria and Louie Mata are trying to get people to watch it live.

“My husband’s always been involved in soccer, he’s been playing since he was 5 years old,” says Maria Mata. She and Louie run the Bay Area based Soccer in Slow Motion, a company that specializes in informing, teaching and bringing together people to learn more about this branch of soccer.

Louie has had a lot of experience with soccer, playing at the professional level as a goalkeeper with the San Jose Grizzlies, as well coaching olympic development and playing games in Mexico in partnership with the Mexican Consulate of San Francisco.

Maria Mata says, “He always knew that he wanted to do something in soccer, his dream has basically been to do something in the soccer world, to kind of give back to the community too.”

She says that to the both of them, the dream to make a living in the world of soccer became reality once they put their efforts into the diverse world of panna and freestyle. Unlike the many organizations that promote traditional soccer in Northern California, their was a vacuum for the alternative type of soccer, which the Mata’s filled.

Thus Soccer in Slow Motion was born. At their site they have a regulation street soccer arena, where they have youth groups and open divisions for both men and women. The youth groups are free to register and play this very kinetic sport.

“What makes street soccer is advanced skill training and control of the ball at your feet, so it’s a quick movement, which you see in a lot of the top players in the Euro Cup and players like Ronaldinho. They’re kind of “juking” the players, they have these creative ways of going around players on the field,” says Maria.

Made up of quick 3 minute games, usually 1 on 1 makes the games a feat of skill as the goal is to nutmeg, or dribble through an opponents legs. “If you neg someone that’s an automatic knockout. On the freestyle side the unique part of it is the entertainment tricks. The juggling of the ball, all this creative but very difficult tricks. You don’t use your hands at all, and you’re doing these gymnastic, aerial type of things with the ball. Its unique as far as coming to Northern California and the US in general, because it’s not really well known in the US.”

On October 8-9 the world of panna and freestyle, along with some of its best players will arrive to the Berryessa Flea Market for the 3rd annual Soccer in Slow Motion tournament.

Maria says the event has built a following over the last 3 years, and they hope this year brings in even more people, whether they be curious or seasoned fans of the sport.

“It’s a family fun atmosphere where they’re gonna see some crazy-amazing athletes go against one another in one on one challenges, 3 on 3 challenges, and then the freestyle competition and just the interaction with the players.”

There are representatives from over 21 countries, representing places like Japan, Poland, South Africa, Belgium & Mexico. Some of these players are heavyweights in the freestyle world, some these being the aforementioned million+ view YouTube videos. Maria says that at the end of the day, the professionals make the tournament a very positive and open experience for fans new and old.

“Since the first year we’ve been really lucky to have one of the original players, Edward van Gils, they call him ‘the godfather of street’, as one of the judges . We have two time world freestyle champion female, Melody Donchet as well. We don’t have the players hidden in the back, they want to be part of the atmosphere so they love to interact with the crowd, it will be great for anyone who’s there. It’s something that you don’t see very often and that people should come and check out.”