The team (Captains: Zach Nickles and I) consisted of 14 talented and passionate,14-year-old boys who were selected to represent AYSO Region 2. AYSO is the largest single-entity youth soccer association in the U.S. with more than 650,000 registered players. Region 2 is made up of multiple cities, including Arcadia, Monrovia, Sierra Madre, Duarte, Bradbury and East Pasadena. The team was selected to compete against the other teams from all around the nation. The AYSO National Games is the largest annual soccer tournament in the US with total 3,300 players and 220 teams.
Like the Olympics, the Opening Ceremony of the National Game was an interesting kick-off event in a large stadium where each team walked through the entrance and circled around the entire field while the whole crowd cheered as an announcer introduced each team. Teams came from all over the country from states ranging from Michigan to Hawaii. Following the introduction, AYSO brought some dog trainers to invite two lucky teams to play against some specially trained dogs in a short penalty shootout style game. We also watched some Indian dancers perform their traditional dances which were entertaining. The Opening Ceremony created a relaxing atmosphere for people to know each other before the intensive competition.
Sooner than I imagined, we were on the field the next day at our first game against the team from Bakersfield, California. As soon as the team hit the field, we knew we were in for a fight. In the end, we ended up tieing Bakersfield 1-1. I think that for most of our players, this was a wake-up call telling us how intensive and physical games would be. We would have to fight for every single inch of the field. The ball would constantly change sides and it wasn’t uncommon to meet it with your head or chest. After that match, many players complained about how drenched in sweat we were because a typical summer day in Knoxville has temperature of 90 oF and humidity of 90%. The parents also felt like they had just taken a swim while watching us, until we kindly reminded them that we were the ones actually playing the game.
Vick Liu kicks defends against Bakersfield team
Starting from the 2nd game, every game was a success. Almost all of the games ended in wins and our team’s spirit was running high. Scores included: 6-0 against Lockport, Illinois; 7-1 against Tucson, Arizona; 5-2 against Knoxville, Tennessee; 6-2 against East China, MI. The only team we lost to was Woodland Hills, CA. Games were intense and I remember one game in particular. It was our game against Tucson, Arizona. We got up fairly early (6AM Eastern time) and met at the field groggily. The field was completely wet and many players got their socks muddy. Most players were still half asleep. We started off the game with a shaky start and the team struggled to work together. Bad passes, lack of teamwork, and slow communication let the opposing team quickly launch a goal into the net. It was a total slap in the face for us. At our quarter break, we received a fair amount of scolding and rearranged ourselves mentally. As a result of hard working and better strategy, we ended up scoring 7 goals against the other team and destroying their hopes of winning.
When the games ended each day, we all went out to eat together and it was just one big feast. All the boys would sit separate from the adults and just mess around while enjoying the food. Free time outside of meals and soccer games were spent chilling out in each other’s rooms and just relaxing as much as we could. One teammate even brought a GameCube and it wouldn’t be surprising to see his room full of players joyfully gaming away. Apart from that, we would also hang out in the hallways, munching on whatever we could find, and doing what all boys our age do. Our hotel was full of other soccer teams so we quickly became good friends with some of the U-16 and U-19 girls if you know what I mean.
The Arcadia’s BU-14 Team in all aspects did great at the Games. In the end, we took the 5th place in the tournament. During my time at the National Games, I have learned more than just soccer. Teamwork, sportsmanship, and communication skills were all improved. Great trust was built among the teammates. Relationships between the boys and parents were enhanced. I have learned that it’s good to broaden one’s horizon by meeting and becoming friends with people from other cities and states. Overall, this is a lifetime experience that I will cherish down the road.