Hard work and all the miles traveled the past three years is paying off for the Wallingford Warriors Under-17 boys soccer team.
On May 26, the Warriors defeated the Nordics SC 17 Premier (Vt.) team 2-1 in the Regional I President’s Cup Under-17 boys championship game in Slippery Rock, Pa. As a result, they are one of four regional finalists to advance to the United States Youth Soccer National President’s Cup tournament to be held this week in Greenville, S.C. from Thursday-Sunday.
In the national championship tournament, each of the four teams play three preliminary round games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The top two teams with the best record advance to the championship game on Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
The other finalists in the national championship are Springfield, Ill., Las Vegas and Cape Coral, Fla. Wallingford opens play on Thursday against Springfield, Ill., at 10:30 a.m.
“This is very exciting for all of us,” said Wallingford coach Dave Rodriguez during a phone interview on Tuesday as the team’s bus rolled through Delaware en route to South Carolina. “We’re very pleasantly surprised to get this far.”
There are 19 players on the team and Rodriguez said they have been playing together since they were 8 years old.
“Everything they have done the past three years has led to this moment,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been successful over the years and they have worked hard to develop their talent and team chemistry.
“The last three years we have culminated each season by playing in a highly competitive tournament. We competed against some elite teams in these tournaments and that pushed our boys to raise their level of play and develop their talent. It’s a big reason why we are successful today.”
Three years ago the season ended at the Disney Classic, an international tournament in Orlando, Fla. Among the youth teams the Warriors beat were Brazil, Guatemala, Orlando and Texas. Two years ago they played in the Robbie International Soccer Tournament in Toronto and last year they won the Rhode Island Seaside tournament competing against some of the best teams in New England.
The Warriors are strong in every phase of the game evidenced by the success in the recent Region I tournament.
The Warriors finished 4-0-1 and outscored opponents 12-3.
“We have 19 strong players and can go deep in our bench,” Rodriguez said. “We are very strong defensively and don’t give up many goals. We play a lot of possession and can play direct or indirect.
“Physically we are very good and we have team speed.”
Leading the strong defense for the Warriors are center back Gardiner Schroeder and center midfielder Alex Burr. Rodriguez said Schroeder “anchors the defense and is very tactical and athletic.” Burr controls the defense in the middle of the field.
The other members of the team are Zach Putnam, Zach Sola, Alberto Maio, David Rodriguez, Joey Slivinski, Carmelo Saia, Andre Rodriguez, Dylan Hogan, Jeff Baksa, Drin Pacuku, Justin Seledyn, Jon Murray, Gianluca Perotti, Jon Jacobs, Nic Gagnon, Matt Cohen and Javy Reyes.
Other coaches on the team are Joe Murray and Brian Burr and all three coaches have sons on the team.
“We’re not cocky, but we are confident going into the tournament,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been practicing at Choate and we’ve had some very good training sessions. We focused on striking and finishing and we’ve worked on direct kicks and indirect kicks.
“The teams we face will be skilled, fast and very athletic. But we are ramped up going into this tournament and we’re ready to play. This is really a culmination of years of preparation and our boys are ready for the challenge.”
Teams that don’t advance to the championship game on Sunday will play in a consolation game that day. After the games are played on Sunday the Warriors will get on the bus and make a stop in North Carolina where they will watch the World Cup final (3 p.m. on ABC TV) at their hotel. They expect to return to Wallingford about 8 a.m. on Monday.