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Having a ball at home

Winnipeg-born midfielder chases soccer glory here Season winding down

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He's gone across the Atlantic Ocean to chase his soccer dream but the best shot right now for Kenny Sacramento is here at home.

The 21-year-old midfielder, a Winnipeg native who grew up playing with FC Northwest, is a leading attacker with the WSA Winnipeg soccer club as the team heads into its final weekend of Premier Development League home games.

Sacramento leads the WSA Winnipeg team with 13 shots in six games and is second in team goal-scoring with two and total points with five behind Amos Ganyea, who has three goals and six points, and Jonathan Hernandez, who has four assists and six points.

He's tied for eighth among PDL leaders in fouls with 15, a sign that the attacking midfielder goes as hard after the ball as his dream of playing professional soccer.

"In this league, there's a lot of good players and a lot of people watching them," said Sacramento, who has played locally with senior men's sides Lusitania, Sons of Italy and Lucania. He also played last winter with the Winnipeg Alliance of the Canadian Major Indoor Soccer League.

"I'm so happy for the opportunity to train every day, trying to improve myself and my attitude and trying to become professional. I've been through these little experiences overseas and you just want to do that every day. You want to have a career at it."

Two years ago, Sacramento went to Portugal where he had what he called the biggest break of his soccer career. He had a one-month trial with the world-class Benfica club followed by a six-month stint with the top-division Real Sport Club Massama. Though the club wanted to sign him, he was unable to do so after complications involving the transfer window (FIFA-designated period to sign international players).

Last season, he joined the PDL's FC Edmonton team. Last June, he played before 10,000 people in Commonwealth Stadium against Chile's famous Colo Colo football club, considered one of the top 30 clubs in the world, in a friendly.

"I felt like I was at a pro game, the crowd was going crazy, then my number was called and I went in with 40 minutes left to play, and I couldn't believe it was happening," Sacramento said.

When the PDL came to Winnipeg this year, Sacramento was quick to join the WSA Winnipeg team knowing the level of competition and attention the league draws across the U.S.

"Our team wants to continue to improve and play well in these next games, we're going to be in places where a lot of people are at the games and you never know who is going to be watching," he said, noting other teams in their Heartland division draw 4,000 fans.

"Our whole team needs to be playing well so the players can shine as we'd love to. So first, it has to be the team and then individual success will come."

It's been a tough sell so far in Winnipeg but a local following is building. The WSA Winnipeg team has drawn crowds of about 500 to the six games it has played so far at home.

"It's terrible that we're 1-4-1 because we've been giving these teams a hard time. A little luck our way and we have four wins," he said. "From Day One, we've seen a huge improvement on our team. When we are firing on all cylinders, we are very dangerous.

"And we're all local players, Eduardo (head coach Badescu) and the coaching staff didn't go to South America to grab players. Like (captain) Ivan Garcia, these are kids from Winnipeg who were always told 'You're not good enough' and we're holding our own against these big clubs."

THE WSA Winnipeg team, a member of the Premier Development League (PDL) plays its final home games of the 2011 season this weekend.

Who: WSA Winnipeg (1-4-1) vs. St. Louis Lions (2-4-1)

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.

Where: The Winnipeg Soccer Complex, 900 Waverley St.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 16, 2011 C6

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