By Tori Wittenbrock
GREEN BAY – On Saturday, July 22, the Wisconsin United FC (WIUFC) Premier boys soccer team snatched a victory in their hard-fought championship game in the gold bracket of the Target USA Cup Tournament located in Minneapolis, which is famously known as the largest youth soccer tournament in North America.
Over the course of five days, the team played a total of eight games, ultimately defeating teams from as far as Chicago, Minnesota, Texas and Brazil.
This accomplishment has become the first ever in the history of WIUFC soccer.
“We set lofty goals for this team two years ago, and it all started to pay off this past spring,” said Head Coach Shant Mesdjan.
“It took our boys over a year of struggling against teams that only wanted to win while we worked on developing our players the first year and were not worried about our record as well as learning to play as a team and not individuals.”
Although the boys experienced success at the tournament, it did not come without a surplus of hard work and preparation.
“This past spring we had two tournaments in Illinois and did not do well, but again, my goal was to have our boys peaking at the right time just as State Cup was rolling around on Memorial Day weekend. We went on to win State Cup and 3 weeks later were invited to Midwest Region Championships, where all midwest State Cup winners were invited as well, and went on an undefeated run until the finals of that and ended up losing to a powerhouse team, which just last week, took second place in the nation,” said Mesdjan.
Winning this tournament has been a major breakthrough for the club and for a lot of the Green Bay area athletes. The USA Cup is a major tournament with tough international competition.
“The USA Cup is open to anyone with exception of the top group, which we were in, as well as teams from other countries i.e Brazil, and from within our country, Texas and Illinois and Minnesota, so needless to say it was some very good teams,” said Mesdjan.
“We ended up playing 8 games that week — one more game than any other team — and ended up winning.”
According to Mesdjan, however, the win did not come easily.
“As we entered the tournament, we had some players that were not available and brought two new players, so they had to learn to play the way our boys play. We had to deal with 3 different types of surface to play on as well as heat and exhaustion with the grueling 8 games,” said Mesdjan.
“Eventually, our boys pulled through and ended up beating the Brazilian team, the third team in Texas and Illinois.”
In order to see success, the boys had to put in tireless work and dedication, said Mesdjan.
“All the success that these boys have had can be attributed to all the work they have put in training, beginning this winter and spring, and their focus and discipline is incredible, which for me is 90% of success in life.”
“Since the club started three years ago, we have had one girls team that has won State Cup back to back, and the boys did it this year, which is incredible and a tribute to all the parents’ commitment, the players putting in the hard work and the entire coaching staff of WI United FC, as there are alot of moving parts and everyone has a hand in creating this fantastic atmosphere for the kids,” said Mesdjan.
This win was a major team effort, and each of the players filled their role in order to contribute to their success.
Despite their victory in the USA Cup, the boys WIUFC team had to overcome some challenges throughout the year.
“They had an unexpected loss early in the spring, and then they rebounded by beating that same team in the state semifinals tournament. They won the state championship — where all of the Wisconsin teams play each other in that age group before moving on to regionals and play the champions of all the other states — but then they lost in the finals of the regional tournament after four or five games. Then they were able to come back from that and win the USA Cup,” said WIUFC Executive Director Eric Gebhard.
However, when they got to the USA Cup, Gebhard said it was still a bit of an uphill battle.
“They got on a bad field early, so they lost their first game, which was unexpected,” said Gebhard.
However, according to Gebhard, their success can be attributed to their tenacity and grit.
“It’s a solid team and they work really hard. Beating a team from Brazil in the semi-finals really just propelled them through. These boys have such good character that after that loss in April, when they went back to work, it was just a grind.”
WIUFC also had a 2006 boys team from Menasha in the tournament, who lost to a team from Ukraine in the semi-finals.
“In order to achieve something big you have to be humbled. When you are humbled with a devastating loss like they were, it made them work harder in practice,” said Gebhard about how their story is a testament to the culture of the WIUFC club.
“They went on quite a run — a run that rarely ever happens for teams from around here.”
This win will put the boys on the map and open up new opportunities for them both as athletes and individuals, according to Gebhard.
“This is a good win for them. It lets people know that they are serious players, and it gives them exposure and it paves the way for younger kids in the club that are coming up behind them.”