Soccer Nation Team competing in Texas at Nationals

Bringing home the National Soccer Cup to their hometown, Kansas City, Kansas is a dream for 18 young soccer players. As the Soccer Nation team gathered at City Hall last week to meet Kansas City, Kansas Mayor David Alvey, they were unsure how to handle the media spotlight. After all, they are only 12 and 13 years old, but when it comes to playing the game of soccer, that is where they shine. The team is ranked fourth in the country as they travel to Nationals in Texas.

Team Captain Henry Godinez, 12 years old, has played soccer since he was 9. As they faced the competition in Indiana, he said, “we talked and listened to our coaches and stayed focused on wanting to win the game.”

He has been amazed that the community who may not know the team members have been supporting them through their journey.
“It feels great to have people wanting to help us go to the tournaments,” said Godinez.

Anthony Casor, 12 years old, is a forward on the team.

“It feels awesome going to the nationals. It is great getting to meet other kids that are playing soccer as well from different states,” he said.

The team has been riding a wave of excitement ever since they took the Regional title. As the boys talked outside City Hall, they couldn’t stop smiling as they recalled winning the five regional games that ranked them as one of the top four teams in the nation.

“I never thought I would be traveling to Texas to play in a national tournament. It is awesome,” said Casor.

Soccer Nation is the first all-Latino soccer club to win the Kansas State Cup in their age group. The team, coaches and parents traveled to the Regional competition, which was held in Indiana, and watched as the team who have only played together for the last three years, swept the competition under the turf, and took the Regional title.

Mayor Alvey praised the team members for their hard work.

“I talked with one of your assistant coaches and he told me that you guys have put in a lot of hard work, you have come together as a team, and you have pushed yourselves and you are succeeding as a team. As a team, you have worked out in the community to raise money, so you could go to competitions. You are a great inspiration to us all. When we as adults see what 12 and 13-year olds have done, we are just amazed at the dedication and confidence you have. We know you will be even more successful and bring home the national cup,” said Alvey.

Soccer Nation Club began three years ago helping inner city children in Wyandotte County that wanted to play soccer have that opportunity. Soccer along with other organized sports is expensive and many families do not always have the money to allow their children to participate.

Soccer Nation owner Raul Villegas goal was to give children in Wyandotte County that wanted to play the game, that opportunity. Over the past three years, he has dug into his own pocket to carry the cost of uniforms and entry fees for the children. He doesn’t want attention put on him, he is doing this for the children.

The work that he and his dedicated coaches are doing with inner city children has caught the attention of the community. Local businesses, restaurants, radio stations, grocery stores and the public have donated money to Soccer Nation to help the boys travel to state, regional and now a national tournament.

Last week, Alberto Lorente, Multicultural Marketing Director at Sprint in Kansas City, gave Villegas a check for $10,000 to help them with expenses as they traveled to Texas for the nationals.

Sprint is filming a documentary on the team and the coaches as they travel to Texas.

“We are proud of the work that you have been doing as a team. You have passion and energy that drives you. We want to capture your story and your journey to the Nationals. We want to tell your story of your beginning, how you came together as a team and how you have worked to be one of the top four teams in the country,” said Lorente.

Villegas has been happy to see the community rally behind the boys.

“We are talking about kids who 3 years ago was playing unorganized soccer. Now they are a team and when they are out on the field, they work as a team. We as coaches also become mentors to the boys, we become a second family to them. Our coaches are committed and love what they do and we just don’t stop with the game, we also work with these kids to encourage them to graduate from high school and maybe get recruited for college soccer. 95 percent of our kids will be the first generation to go to college and if we can get them a scholarship for soccer that would be a plus,” he said.

Jose Leon, assistant coach, joined Soccer Nation last year and has enjoyed working with the players and see them grow in the sport. Traveling with 18 boys to tournaments is no easy task and is very expensive.

“When these tournaments run for about 7 days, it costs about $14,000 because we have a lot of rooms, we do share rooms, but we have to feed the kids, do activities with the kids while we are at the tournaments, we have to keep them busy we don’t want them sitting in a hotel for ten hours, then you have gas for our vehicles, and with all of this added in, it could easily be $20,000,” he said.

One person who learned about the team gave them a $7500 sponsorship and the boys have been working in the community raising funds for their expenses.

“Sun Fresh has been a sponsor of ours for the last year. They let the boys work at the store sacking groceries, and Sun Fresh had a tip jar set up for the team. By the kids working to raise money for these tournaments, I think the kids are realizing what they are accomplishing. I think they will value this experience more and they can tell others that they worked in a grocery store to help fund my trip to Texas,” said Leon.

While the Soccer Nation team is in Texas at Nationals, they will be facing competition from three other teams-- Texas, California and Pennsylvania.

Before the team left for Nationals last Sunday, Villegas thanked the parents, coaches and Sprint for their support of Soccer Nation for the last three years. Talking to the team members, he said, “You guys have worked so hard, you believe in each other and accomplished so much being in the top four teams. I am so very proud of you.”