While the eyes of the world were on the World Cup final, on this side of the pond there was an even larger soccer tournament, in terms of participation, just getting underway.
Among the 917 teams entered in last week’s USA Cup International Youth Soccer Tournament, in Blaine, Minnesota, three were from the Yukon Strikers S.C., all of whom reached the semifinals of their respective divisions.
With the USA Cup divided into two tournaments – a weekend tourney followed a five-day “week tournament”- the Strikers U-19 men’s team managed to reach two semifinal rounds.
Competing in the top-level A Flight of the weekend tournament, the U-19 Strikers reached the semifinal where they suffered a 2-1 shootout loss to Winnipeg’s FC Northwest Thunder. Down a goal with just seconds left in regulation time, Strikers’ Walker Ewing sent a 35-yard free kick to the net, headed in by Cody Reaume to tie.
The Strikers started the weekend tournament with a loss but won their next two. Playing the Coon Rapids Fire from Minnesota, the Strikers came back from a goal down to win with Ewing and Robbie Borud producing. Keeping the momentum going, the Strikers won 2-0 over Central FC Select with goals from Stephen Dynes and Graham Clarke.
“What stood out for me was we were able to create a U-19 team that was on par with some of the best U-19 clubs around,” said Strikers head coach Jake Hanson. “Our boys were in the top two or three in both events – especially in the week-long event – and played against some of the best U-19 teams you can play against. It was quite encouraging.”
Then playing in the top-level Puma Flight, the Strikers started the week tournament with a 3-0 loss to Sweden’s Rudbeckianska, the country’s championship high school team who won both the USA Cup tournaments for U-19.
However, the Strikers won their second game 3-1 against Minnesota’s Woodbury Royals, who finished third in the state’s high school championships. The Strikers again came back from a goal down with Kyle Risby, Graham Clarke and Kevin Pruitt, a guest player on the team from Iowa, each scoring.
After a lopsided 6-0 thumping over Minnesota’s Coon Rapids Elite, with Dynes putting in two goals, the Strikers defeated Mexico’s Cefor Lobos in the quarterfinal, winning 1-0 with a goal from another guest player, Michael Andrade, from Manitoba.
The Yukon squad was then eliminated with a 1-0 loss to high school state champions, Valley United Cosmo from Minnesota.
“Over the last few days I’ve received e-mails from coaches at colleges that had been scouting our games and are interested in some of the players,” said Hanson. “So there are definitely going to be some opportunities that will come from the performance of the boys.”
The Strikers girls’ U-17 team also made the trip to Blaine, playing in just the week tournament and reaching the semifinal of the Silver Flight division (the second highest).
The Yukon girls began the Cup with three wins, outscoring the competition 17-1. In fact, the Strikers opened the tournament with a 2-0 win over the eventual champions, the Minneapolis United Kinami.
“It was an extremely successful trip,” said Strikers head coach John MacPhail. “We didn’t know because it was a group of U-17 girls we asked if they wanted to go, and everyone who signed up went. We had a girls as young as 15, some 16-year-olds and five girls from the Canada Games Team.”
Reaching the quarterfinal with a 12-0 shellacking of MBSA Flames from Maple Grove, Minnesota – with Helen Hedstrom-Langford getting a hat trick – the Strikers advanced to the semis with a 1-0 shootout win over the RSGSA 92 from Illinois. Scoring for the Yukon in the shootout were Terri Publicover, Katie Lowey and Hedstrom-Langford.
The Strikers lost 4-1 in the semifinal against the Rochester Euro FC from Minnesota. Scoring for the Strikers was Juliana Coleman.
“They scored on a penalty shot early in the game and we never really recovered from it,” said MacPhail.
“It was very hot and humid. Five games in five days in that kind of heat – they did very well with it. On the fifth day, in that semifinal, we just ran out of gas.”
The Yukon’s U-16 boys Strikers, like the U-19 team, played in both tournaments at the Cup, failing to advance to the playoffs in the weekend contest, but reaching the semifinal of the week tournament.
“It’s an excellent tournament. I went with a young team, so some of the players on the field would have been two years older than our youngest players – it just has to do with how the USA does their divisions,” said Strikers head coach Arnold Hedstrom. “With our 50/50 record (at the Cup) it was just the type of competition we needed. We didn’t want to blow teams out of the water and we didn’t want to get blown away.”
In the weekday tourney, the Strikers finished third in the round-robin, putting them in the Silver Flight B playoff draw, advancing to the semifinals when their quarterfinal opponents defaulted.
In the semi the Strikers fell 2-1 to Ontario’s Newmarket United, who went on to win the division. Scoring for the Yukon was Curtis Hills, putting in his last of 14 goals over the week.
“He’s been playing in the men’s league and training with the Yukon Selects (men’s rep team),” said Hedstrom of Hills. “Soccer is not a sport where a single player can carry the team entirely. We have a very strong midfield as well, with Brian Burke, Tristan Olynyk and Martin Sealy all strong in the middle. I think Kieran Small also was solid; he played most of every game, even in extreme heat, and was super as one of our centre backs.”
To reach the playoff the Strikers defeated Rochester Euro FC 5-2 with four goals from Hills and another from Mike Wintemute.
The USA Cup is the largest youth soccer tournament in the Western Hemisphere, featuring 917 teams, 14,000 players from 16 countries, and is played at the US’s National Sports Centre, the world’s largest outdoor soccer facility with 52 fields.
“It was outstanding; it was the best tournament I’ve ever been to by a long shot,” said MacPhail. “If anyone is thinking of going to this thing – after 15 years of coaching soccer in this town – it is the neatest tournament I’ve ever attended.”
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