On April 8th the Back 2 Back Colorado State Cup Champion FC Boulder 01 Boys Elite team headed out with coach Kyle Lineberger to Dallas to participate in the 37th annual Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup International tournament. Being accepted into the Dallas Cup is a big deal in itself as this is the most prestigious international youth soccer tournament in North America, where top club and academy teams from 17 countries and 18 states would come together for a week of top level competition. In the U16 Boys division there were teams from 5 countries and 11 states! This tournament had a single substitution rule and a 6 per game limit…and the FCB Boys had but 3 subs on the bench and 2 keepers to make out the 15 man roster.

The 01 Boys had a very tough group and started off their matches with a game against CF Monterrey Rayados U16’s from Mexico. This is the U16 pro development team for the Mexican Pro power house Monterrey and the 2017 version of the team that won the U16’s last year. This team also featured one of the “10 players to watch” called out by the tournament from across all age groups. The FCB Boys did not disappoint as they played excellent all out soccer and took the lead about 25 minutes into the first half on a PK scored by Omar Castruita after Fabian Valencia was taken down in the box (Omar and Fabian are also team mates at Boulder High). The wind continued to be a big factor and GK Carter Melton (Fairview HS) played an amazing game, at times playing out of his mind, with many saves, more than one in the phenomenal range. With 2 minutes left Rayados equalized on a direct kick laser with the wind from just outside the box. In the end a HUGE and somewhat unexpected point was earned and the boys had a new understanding that they could play with anyone if they worked their hardest and played for each other. The back line of Will Griffith, Jake Ketchner and Myles Ellis (all of Fairview HS) and Harry Yoxall (Rocky Mtn. HS,Ft. Collins), were a well organized fearless and stingy bunch throughout the game. That evening, the boys took part in the very memorable opening ceremonies in the Cotton Bowl stadium where they walked (or limped) in with several hundred soccer players from the US and stood in front of the thousands of fans with players from all over the globe, and players who will surely represent their countries in World Cups in the future.

The second game had the FCB Boys facing #3 in the US, LVSA 01 Red. After going down 1 nil in the first 15 minutes on a nice goal by the Vegas squad the FCB Boys settled in and started to take control of the game. Omar was out with a severely sprained left ankle (the tournament trainers told him 7 to 10 days from the looks of it, and it merited buying a pair of crutches) so Simon Gerlach (Silver Creek HS) who is in his first season with the 01B Elite team rose to the challenge and played an excellent 65 minutes in his first start. With Omar out, and Simon playing great the other starting midfielders, Mark O’Neill (Fairview HS and a 2002) Micah Blackburn, and Carlos Daniel Zapatero (both of Boulder High) also played yet another great game to really help manage the middle third and help back beautifully on D. Fabian continued to cause trouble with his speed and nose for goal and scored both of the teams goals to give FCB a 2 – 1 lead going into the final 30 minutes. Noah Williams (Fairview) had some very good saves in the last 25 minutes and Blake Barber (Monarch HS) came in up top and Ethan Bolster (Silver Creek HS and also in his first season with the Elite team) came in at midfield with fresh legs and plenty of skill to keep Vegas at 1 goal and suddenly the FCB boys were on top of group F and looking like a team that nobody expected to be as good as they were. To that point it is fair to say that over the first 2 games many college and academy scouts came to watch Monterrey and LVSA but got to see FC Boulder while there!

After getting the much needed day off on Tuesday, and doing their student duties in team study halls at the hotel, the boys were ready for the task of getting a win and taking the group as they faced off against SoCal club La Esperanza, who had beaten Monterrey on Monday. As this game unfolded it became clear that something special was happening and the FCB Boys dominated this one from early on. Christian Nunez (Centaurus HS) got into a scoring mood scoring 2 of the three goals with Myles Ellis adding the final goal on a sweet overlapping run from the back line late in the game. The FCB side controlled the game to the extent that Carter barely touched the ball in the fist half and Noah did not have to make a single save in the second half! Also, Omar managed to get into the game for the last 15 minutes to test out his ankle; sore but he could play through the pain.

Thursday was another much needed day off, rest… study, eat, eat, rest and eat and relax. The next game would be the Quarter Finals, and something that none of the boys dared dream aloud about only 5 days earlier. The week was taking on a “Hoosiers” like quality as this team from a county with 300,000 people, and the only team there with a single coach (plus Colm O’Neill’s help in the first 3 games) and no trainer, had taken down teams with larger budgets and staffs that draw players from a population base of over 1.5 million in every case. For the Quarter Finals the FCB Boys would face off against Dallas’ own Sporting United which boasted a deep, talented roster and another of the “10 players to watch” who was actually a member of the U17 Mexican National Side. Being that this was a Friday game on a day that Dallas schools had no classes, the Sporting United supporters were out en mass with a crowd of 400 to 500 chanting, at times abusive, fans and a band! Again the whole team played with discipline and heart and total focus from the start. And just to be sure there was an element of Hollywood drama, Omar came in for the start and scored less than 5 minutes in dampening the enthusiasm of the home crowd. But as good teams in big games do, the Sporting United team answered to tie late in the half and then take the lead early in the second half…firing up the crowd once again. Then on a direct kick a few minutes later Omar stepped up and did his thing…tie game! And, as previously mentioned as good teams in big games do, the FCB Boys found a way to get the winner off of Omar’s foot with about 5 minutes left and then continued to shut down the Texas team with solid D and goal keeping from Carter and take the win! On to the Semi Finals later that day!

It is worth mentioning that at this point many of these 15 boys had played 320 minutes of soccer against the toughest teams they have ever faced in the span of 6 days. But no rest for the weary and since a rain delay earlier in the week forced the Quarter Finals and the Semi Finals to be played on the same day the FCB Boys were now looking to square off against So Cal power house Albion SC and a team that included a player just called up to the USMNT U17 side. As they had shown all week these young men could rise to the occasion and in the first half Myles had a run from the back through a number of Albion players and ripped a shot past the Albion keeper to put Boulder up 1 to zero. FCB GK, Noah Williams had a number of quality saves including several in a 1 on 0 situation to hold the lead until late in regulation when an unfortunate own goal put the game level. Then the game remained level through both 10 minute periods of extra time with each team’s keeper making a good save to keep the score knotted. At this point it was on to PK’s and the pressure of being exhausted and lining up to take or thwart a PK on the biggest stage that most all of these boys have ever played on. FCB hit their first penalty with Mark putting it home, and then Albion responded in kind. Boulder then answered with Christian executing. At this point Noah entered a some sort of goal keeping twilight zone that allowed him to save the next 3 Albion PK’s in a row!!! Boulder missed one, and had one saved on a great effort by the Albion keeper. As the 5th and hopefully final shooter for FC Boulder , Harry stepped up and calmly beat the keeper for the win! In the story book week the unthinkable had happened and the FC Boulder 01 Boys Elite team…the smallest roster-ed team, from the least populated community in the tournament had made it to the finals of the toughest youth tournament in North America!!!

At the start of the week Kyle had hoped that the boys would leave with a win, a draw and a loss and a lot of confidence and long lasting memories. The return flight was scheduled for 5PM on Saturday, but since the boys had yet to loose and were playing at 3PM that afternoon in Toyota Stadium (home stadium of perennial MLS powerhouse FC Dallas) the return flight needed to be changed. A welcome inconvenience to be sure. By now all of the boys were pretty darn tired and Omar, Myles, Fabian and Jake were being treated and taped prior to the pre game warm up. A few minutes into the warm up it became obvious that Jake Ketchner, one of the anchors of the back line all week, would not be able to play. He could hardly walk…turns out he had torn his calf muscle in the semi final match and is out through most of May. It was such a cruel twist of fate to keep Jake off the pitch for the finals in a tournament in which he had done so much for his team in getting to this point. The FCB Boys were facing off against the FC Dallas U15 Academy Team. This is a team that has players from 7 states on it, and gets full use of the FC Dallas physio staff and facilities while in their home city. They put up 22 goals in reaching the finals while only conceding 2! It was clear from the start that FC Boulder was exhausted and beaten up. It was also clear that the FC Dallas team was the best quality side they had seen yet…a rough combo. FCB went down 1 nil early on and then to make matters worse left outside back Will Griffith had to leave the game due to an injury 30 minutes in. Kyle juggled the lines as best he could but when Dallas put in 6 fresh subs at the half there was little to no hope of stopping the Dallas onslaught. Boulder continued to give it their all but there was just no answering the Dallas pace and quality and FC Dallas went on to win 5 – 0. It was so great to see so many of the parents who had flown down that morning, along with friends and family from the Dallas area (Blake’s former home) great and cheer the boys and what they had done as they left the dressing room and came outside.

What these boys, and Kyle accomplished was amazing! Memories to be held forever were forged. To be thought a non factor, and to have essentially the bear minimum in terms of team size and support staff (although we cannot forget how much the parents, team manager Brandon Barder, Buddy Ketchner and Ramon Nunez, did to help the boys efforts by being down there helping all week) and to have such a tough road to the finals made this an even more amazing accomplishment and story. This team is a collection of excellent young men beyond the soccer fields as well. They have respect, character, toughness, selflessness and true caring for one another and that is also a reflection of the boys, their families and the club they play for…the community that FC Boulder represents and is. The team would also like to thank all of those folks who followed their journey on Facebook and Twitter and sent good luck thoughts their way. This success is opening doors for more elite national level tournaments and opportunities for this team to play against some of the top teams in the country. As such they are running an ongoing fund-raising effort with gofiundme ( https://www.gofundme.com/fc-boulder-01-boys-elite-tournament ) and if you are able to help out…fantastic. If not come out and catch part of a game after your kid’s game sometime if you are close by.