On the day of the 15U Boys final match at the 2017 US Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas, Tuzos Academy 02 (AZ) saw its dream of winning the title fall to pieces as one goal separated the Arizona team from the National Championship.
While Tuzos walked away from the event empty-handed, the Phoenix-based team is back for the 2018 National Championships in the 16U Boys age group and ready to win it all after earning back-to-back Far West Regional titles.
“We’re very excited. This team worked very hard,” head coach Jesse Cadena said. “Our main purpose after last year was to obviously come back and get another shot. All of the credit should be for the kids that work very hard during the season -- that in the summer don’t take time off to be with their families or go on vacation. That’s a reward for them to be back at Nationals. There was no doubt in my mind that we would have another shot because I can tell the kids really wanted to be there.”
As a club that isn’t a common name at Nationals, Tuzos came into the 2017 event as the underdogs. Tuzos worked its way through to earn a spot at the 2017 Far West Regional Championships via the Far West Regional League Desert Premier League. After going 2-1-0 in group play and making it to the regional final match, Tuzos found itself with a ticket to Nationals.
In Frisco, Texas, the Arizona side made it out of group play with three wins, though each win was close and won by only one goal. The National Championship game was one to learn from, as Cadena would say that every game is a learning experience. However, the team moved on and achieved its goal by earning a spot once again in this year’s National Championships.
Despite being a National finalist, Tuzos had to put in the work at the 2018 Far West Regional Championships in Honolulu. A 1-0-2 record in group play was enough for Tuzos to go to the quarterfinals and when the team got to the regional finals, it took kicks from the mark to decide the winner.
Being in a familiar situation in the regional finals, Tuzos knew exactly what a victory would mean.
“We wanted to take [the regional title] and we did,” Tuzos goalkeeper Cesar Escobedo said. “We knew what to expect at the finals since we had already been there last year. It feels great to be a team that was basically the underdog and now we’re representing again the city of Phoenix and the state of Arizona when we weren’t really known by anyone.”
In a short period of time, Tuzos has made a name for itself and is no longer the new kid in town. It’s no doubt that the players’ perseverance have helped them to get where they are today, but what sets the team and the Tuzos club apart from others is what happens behind the big championship games.
“We are a soccer club on the competitive level that doesn’t charge training fees, and all of our coaches are volunteer coaches because we want to give back to the community we were given when we were younger,” Cadena said.
As a volunteer coach himself, Cadena’s focus is on the kids and giving them the opportunity to play the game.
“Our main purpose is to give the kids a shot to compete at the highest level,” Cadena said. “What better opportunity than for the kids to be in Regionals and Nationals? What else can you ask for the kids to be at that type of competition.”
In addition to the volunteer coaches, the hard work and support of the players’ families also give the team the opportunity to travel and compete at high levels. The help from the families has allowed Tuzos to travel to Regionals and Nationals, as well as National League events, in the team’s first season this past year.
“Having so many low-income families is very hard,” Cadena said. “It’s not easy at all, but our families work very hard in fundraising. We have so many good families. For us to make it to Nationals, we feel so proud to represent our state, but most importantly, to show that a low income club like us can make things happen.”
Not only does Tuzos have support from the families, but the word, “family,” is also a key term within the club.
“We call our entire club our family,” Cadena said. “I think that just speaks by itself. We’re not a team. We’re a family.”
As the records show, Tuzos definitely knows how to achieve greatness. Going all the way to the National Championship final is not an easy task and as the team is back again, Tuzos knows that it wants a different ending. After the training, the fundraising, the traveling and the significant amount of work put into the competitions, Tuzos knows that it essentially all comes down to playing the game of soccer.
“It’s just for the love of the sport,” Escobedo said. “We really play with heart. We love the sport. We take nothing for granted, and we appreciate everything.”