He passes, and he scores!
What a win for Albion SC Merced, the club soccer team that just brought home the winning trophy after competing at the XXI National Cup Finals in Denver, Colorado.
“We have a really strong team bond and chemistry,” the team’s coach, Rafa Valencia, told the Times. “Because most of our kids have been together for so long, it’s a brotherhood to them. They spend more time together than they do with their own family sometimes.”
Most of the players have been a part of the team since they were 5 or 6 years old; young teenagers now, Coach Valencia credits the teams hard work and consistency as their success.
“It was really a lot of practice and development,” he explained of the team’s training. “We train a minimum of three days a week. Wednesdays we use as a ‘film day’ where the kids watch the previous week’s game and go over what we did well and areas we need to work on. Saturdays and Sundays are game days. When we are in season, we are either training or playing five to six days a week. It’s a lot of dedication and hard work.”
In February, the team took the title of state champions for Northern California — qualifying them for a spot at the National Finals.
The Championship happened over a course of a couple of days from July 17-21, at the DICK’S Sporting Goods Park in Denver, Colorado. Over 7,000 club soccer teams from all around the states competed in the Finals.
“It was different and something new,” Coach Rafa continued. “Denver has a very high altitude about 5,000 feet above sea level; because of the oxygen some of the kids struggled to breath, had shortness of breath, headaches. It took us a couple of days to adjust to that. As we adapted to it we started playing our best. We were playing teams that we had played before and just kept getting better.”
The deciding championship game for the National Tournament came down to a match between Albion and a So Cal team that they previously lost against.
“We played them in May at a tournament in San Diego and that team actually beat us in a semi-final. Our guys were pumped up to play them because it was a revenge game to them. They were excited when we found out we were playing them and were pumped up to play.”
“For us in the soccer community it’s a big deal because competitive soccer in Merced has only been around since 1965, and we are the second team in California to ever win a National Championship. For us it is a really big deal. Even the teams that we play from other states, for them to see a team coming from a small town-they even get surprised that we are doing all this. It’s a huge accomplishment for the group.”
Albion SC conducts tryouts every year to allow new players an opportunity to join; May 2023 will be the next opening for tryouts. For more information, please reach out to Coach Rafa at (209) 819-1385.