SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Carlos Saenz effortlessly juggled a soccer ball on his left foot before transferring it over to his right foot.

"Soccer is all about concentration," the Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA wellness coach explained. "It's all about control."

It seems like Saenz has been juggling a pretty intense schedule this summer.

He was one of the 20 Midwestern coaches selected to take part in the U.S. Soccer Olympic Development Program camp in Saginaw, Michigan, July 5-9.

"I was able to coach some of the top young soccer players in the Midwest," the 27-year-old said. "I was able to work alongside coaches with a lot more experience than me."

"It was hard work but also a great opportunity," said Saenz, head coach for the Sioux City East High School boys varsity soccer team. "Some of the (development program) players will have the chance to represent the U.S. in the World Cup or at the Olympic Games." 

Saenz is also coach for the Siouxland Diablos, a team made up of 14- and 15-year-old soccer players from Sioux City and South Sioux City.

The Diablos will be one of the teams participating in the Gothia Cup Soccer Tournament being held July 17-23 in Gothenburg, Sweden.

"Going to Sweden is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for my players," Saenz said. "They're really excited."

World travel is nothing new for Saenz, a Lima, Peru, native who played semi-pro soccer as a teenager. He traveled to tournaments in Spain, Mexico and Chile before moving to the United States at age 17.

"If it hadn't been for soccer, I wouldn't have been able to see the world," he said. "That was important to me."

Education was also important.

Saenz has a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Mount Marty College. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in health care management from Briar Cliff University.

Saenz acknowledged there is sometimes a cultural gap while working with the Diablos.

"(In Peru), everybody played soccer," he said. "(In the United States), athletes can play all kinds of sports. In addition, my players are juggling soccer with work, school and any number of activities. They have to be really committed to succeed at the sport."

The Diablos will also face an uphill battle when competing against more established soccer teams from the United States, England, Germany and Norway, among other countries, at the Gothia Cup.

"South Sioux City is a small town and the Diablos is a small team when compared to the competition," Saenz said.

Yet Saenz is more than happy to be the underdog.

"I want my team to have the same positive experience I had with soccer," he said. "We are always preparing to succeed. Even if we don't win, we are still going to try the best we can."

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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