Amherst’s Marcos Sotarello making waves abroad

  • Amherst's Marcos Sotarello spent what would have been his senior year of high school playing soccer in Valencia, Spain, at International Development Academy. COURTESY CARLOS SALAVERT/IDA

  • Amherst's Marcos Sotarello spent what would have been his senior year of high school playing soccer in Valencia, Spain, at International Development Academy. COURTESY CARLOS SALAVERT / IDA

  • Amherst's Marcos Sotarello spent what would have been his senior year of high school playing soccer in Valencia, Spain, at International Development Academy. COURTESY CARLOS SALAVERT / IDA

  • Amherst's Marcos Sotarello spent what would have been his senior year of high school playing soccer in Valencia, Spain, at International Development Academy. COURTESY CARLOS SALAVERT / IDA

  • Amherst's Marcos Sotarello spent what would have been his senior year of high school playing soccer in Valencia, Spain, at International Development Academy. COURTESY CARLOS SALAVERT / IDA

  • Amherst's Marcos Sotarello spent what would have been his senior year of high school playing soccer in Valencia, Spain, at International Development Academy. COURTESY CARLOS SALAVERT / IDA

Staff Writer
Published: 7/9/2021 2:06:40 PM

AMHERST — Marcos Sotarello spent what should have been his senior year of high school playing soccer in Spain.

As the rest of the world shut down, sports included, last spring, the Amherst native saw an opportunity. He’d been in contact with International Development Academy since seeing their tent at a Thanksgiving club tournament in Taunton in 2019. Sotarello reached out to IDA, which was still interested in him.

“I was seeing what I could do to still have a season,” he said. “I was like ‘I’ll give it a shot.’ I was supposed to, as a gap year, go there, but then since everything was shut down, might as well go there and take the opportunity.”

While Sotarello’s mother Jean Janecki was, of course, worried about the global pandemic and the dangers of traveling, she trusted her son would be safe and follow protocols, and that the environment would limit the team’s potential exposures.

“It was really his decision,” she said. “He was ready as far as his player development to take it to another level. It seemed like really the best opportunity. They were living in this enclosed environment, so COVID risks were very limited. No one got COVID.” 

Sotarello left Massachusetts in August 2020 for England, where he and his teammates needed to quarantine for two weeks before continuing on to Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city. After passing a COVID test, the group lived and trained in a contained environment that featured two soccer pitches, a gym and a pool. The academy was composed largely of Americans but also included players from Russia, Dubai, Haiti and Mexico, among others.

It was his second time in Spain after previously visiting on a tour with the Boston Bolts Academy team two years ago.

“That’s when he first got the bug,” Janecki said.

A typical day at the academy in Valencia started with an 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. wake up call, then breakfast and training followed by free time and lunch. Some free time was filled with extra practice work, others playing PlayStation in teammates rooms. Sotarello is fluent in Spanish – his father Fernando Sotarello is from Argentina and Janecki works as the director of Mount Holyoke’s language resource center after previously working as a Spanish professor – and spoke both with teammates and coaches.

Evenings featured dinner and either another training session or games. Sotarello said he played 40 games between August and June.

“I thought it was incredible. The opportunities they gave me were incredible. The directors of the academy have connections all over and they find you clubs,” Sotarello said. “The style of play is way different than here in America. It was more possession based, moving the ball around.”

For players aged 18 and over (the program caters to players between age 15 and 21), they can play extra games with local men’s teams or in Spain’s professional leagues. Sotarello said a teammate Arik Duncan, whose college season at RPI was canceled, caught on with a fourth-division Spanish side that finished strong enough to be promoted, and he’s staying with the club.

Sotarello was only 17 when he was in Valencia and ineligible for those leagues, but he sees that as another opportunity when he returns this August.

“This next year coming is going to be huge for me,” he said. “There are a lot more options from there. Playing at that level makes you different from the rest.”

Sotarello stood out even among his talented peers. His coaches named him the player of the season. He plays as a central defensive midfielder that excels at winning the ball, starting an attack with forward passes and comfortably switches the field.

“I might not show out (on the stat sheet), but if you look at me carefully I’ll do the dirty work for the team,” Sotarello said.

One game late in the season, Sotarello came off the bench to play central attacking midfielder, placed further up the pitch than he normally is. It was the second game of the week, and while typically players will receive more time in one game than another, he wasn’t thrilled about coming off the bench. Sotarello still made the most of the opportunity. He entered in a 0-0 game and set up the first goal after dispossessing an opponent in the midfield. His team won 4-0, and Sotarello finished with two assists.

“I definitely thought it was the right decision. I learned a lot,” he said. “In the academy they teach you things as a person in real life, not only as a soccer player.”

Academy players needed to have their beds made, show up on time in the right kit and keep their rooms clean, otherwise they would be fined five Euros and need to run a mile.

“It mentally prepared you,” Sotarello said. “Being away from home already it made me more independent and mature as a person.”

Janecki visited Sotarello for three weeks in May, and he came back to Amherst for 10 days in February, but other than that he immersed himself in Spanish culture. They ate traditional food like paella and croquetas and went shopping in the city on the weekend.

“All the cities are so lively,” Sotarello said.

While he’s not ruling out playing at an American university after his gap year, Sotarello sees a future in Spain as either a professional player or coach.

“Ever since he was little, this has been his dream, to be able to play in Spain and become a professional,” Janecki said. “He’s finding those paths.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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