By Craig Forsdick
La Jolla, California — When you think of elite youth soccer programs in the U.S. its common to refer to any number of programs scattered throughout the Southwestern United States. This Thanksgiving weekend, a U18 boy’s team from Idaho made a number of elite teams stand up and take notice.
The San Diego Surf College Cup, recognized as one of the premier tournaments nationally and internationally in youth soccer, was host to 140 boys and girls teams in the U16 through U18 age groups from over 16 states and three countries.
The Idaho Rush Nike U18 Boys Team rode a weekend of stifling defense as they captured the Championship Gold Cup. But getting to a moment like this isn’t an easy road for teams from “up north”. When much of the southern states are still holding onto those late summer warm days, where soccer thrives, the teams up north face a much different training challenge. Winter often arrives early, which makes training for high-level competition like Surf Cup a major challenge. For the Rush Nike U18 Boys team from Boise, Idaho it’s no different. As the City of Boise is closing down all their soccer facilities for the winter, this Idaho Rush squad was hard a work regardless of the conditions. Whether sub freezing temperatures, rain, hail or even snow, the team continued with its outdoor training. With the weather conditions turning severe, and available training space limited, just prior to the tournament the team resorted to moving their conditioning training to a local parking garage just trying to find some space sheltered from the elements. As coach Shaun Dunn told us, “These boys know that to compete at this level of competition you have to be mentally tough and believe me, training in these conditions makes you mentally tough!”
After weeks of preparation, a 16-hour drive to Southern California, it was time to put all that hard work to the test. The Rush boys opened up the weekend with two games the first day, first facing Wolfpack S.C. from Cal-South. It was a strong battle, but Rush prevailed with a 2-1 victory. A few hours later the boys would engage the So Cal Brigade (Cal South). As was the earlier match, this one was once again another back and forth game. Rush would control much of the attack, but the Brigade team wouldn’t back down, the teams battled to 0’s at half with Rush out shooting it’ opponent 9-0. But shortly after the opening of the second half, an unfortunate own-goal by the Rush squad gave Brigade the advantage they needed as they handed Rush its only setback of the weekend, 0-1. This loss put the Rush team behind in the bracket points, the mental toughness that coach Shaun Dunn commented on earlier would prove to be resource the team would need to draw upon. Their next opponent was the Futeca Camp Elite, an international youth squad from Guatemala. This Futeca Elite team played to draws in both of their previous matches. The Rush team was faced with not only needing to win against Futeca Elite, but to hold them scoreless and needing to score 2 or more goals themselves to prevail to the next round. With Futeca Elite having only given up 1 goal thus far in two games, the challenge was daunting. As with the two previous matches, Rush came out with a stifling and relentless high-pressure defense. Using their size and speed, Rush controlled the game from the first whistle. Futeca Elite wanted to control the game with their patient ball-control style of play, but Rush never let them get comfortable with the ball. Their relentless defensive pressure forced Futeca Elite into many uncharacteristic errors, which quickly turned them into goals. Rush prevailed with a 2-0 win, giving them the advantage on points, to advance to the Semi-finals on Sunday morning.
Rush arrived the next morning for their early 8 a.m. match to see the parking lots a soupy mess by the rain overnight. With much of the parking lots closed, and heavy equipment trying to disperse the water and mud to allow the teams to arrive. and the fields were still in great shape.
The semi-final opponent would be the Los Angeles FC (Cal South) now known LAFC Cosmos, the west coast part of the NY Cosmos Academy, another highly ranked opponent. But the Rush squad didn’t miss a beat with their relentless defense in fact; they stepped it up a notch and dominated LAFC with a convincing 4-0 win.
Rush was in the finals, facing Tustin United Red (Cal South). Unlike the previous matches, these two teams knew each other all too well, having squared off twice last spring, exchanging victories. The Tustin squad reached the finals with dominant performances, wining all 4 of their previous matches having yet to give up a goal. Tustin would prove to be on their game, giving Rush a very strong challenge. Rush’s strength would prove to be their versatility and total team play.
To this point in the tournament, Rush had goals scored by 7 different players, giving Tustin a number of opponents to worry about, as well as knowing that the Rush defense and keeper Dillon Snyder, had only allowed two goals thus far in the tournament. Both teams came out cautious, sizing each other up. As with the previous matches, Rush continued with their strong defensive presence shutting down each of the Tustin advances, making it very difficult for Tustin to get a shot on goal. As the first half developed Rush began to find holes in the Tustin defense. Rush midfielders Yared Solscheid and Kyle Menchaca turned countless defensive wins into counter attacks. Rush would strike first utilizing a long throw-in into the box by Kyle Forsdick, teammate Mitch Butt would strike home for the 1-0 lead. Later in the second half, with both teams battling back and forth relentlessly, defender Derek Ahlstrom would head home a free kick by Steve Garcia to score Rush’s second goal, and seal the win for Rush, 2-0.
This was a very gratifying win for the Rush. “It was an entire team coming together. From the starters to the bench, every player contributed in an integral way.” Said Coach Dunn. “The team has been so close before and now finally broke through. This is such a huge victory for these young men, the Idaho Rush, and the entire state of Idaho. I am very proud of all of them. All the hard work that has been put in now has paid off and now we can call ourselves what no other team from our state has ever been able to do, Surf Cup Champions!”