By Cory Junker (Director of Coaching)
Have practices and games been stopped because of a moose on the field? Yes. Do bears sometimes “scat” on the soccer field? Yes. Do we live in igloos? No. Summers are short with interesting obstacles you have to overcome. Most of Alaskan soccer is played inside. What does 9 months of winter get you in terms of soccer? Indoor in gyms and turf with increased injuries, a game deprived of a pass longer than 25 yards, and not being able to tan. Alaskan soccer is truly its own breed. Being born and raised near St. Louis, a hot bed of soccer, adjusting to the trials and tribulations of playing and coaching soccer in Alaska has been interesting to say the least. Due to the Alaskan winter, the luxury of simply going out and kicking around with friends is taken away. Even simply going for run can be an ordeal if you don’t like treadmills. So how does one train for one of the biggest tournaments in youth competitive soccer?
Economical training is one way to look at it. Maximizing training sessions to fit in everything is an art. Generally, with the high cost of using indoor facilities, you are limited to about 3-4 hours of practice per week (even when training for a huge tournament). Mind you, this is everything from fitness, to technique, to tactics. The simple thought of going to the lower 48 and entering a tournament can sometimes be daunting… let alone trying to “compete”. When a lower 48 team sees that they are playing an Alaskan team, generally they enter the game with a sense of ease and confidence. This can be a huge advantage… especially when you have extremely talented players that sometimes have to work harder to be able to overcome the hardships of Alaskan soccer.
Having played at US Youth Soccer Regionals, USA Cup, President’s Day Cup in AZ, and many others, we knew what we were getting into, and also knew that we would have to kick it up a notch for Surf Cup. Entering into the first game…. nervous… wide eyed… playing a team ranked much higher than us… adjusting to the weather… we began. Pulling off a win on the first game 1-0 was definitely the confidence booster we needed. Pulling off a 0-0 tie in our second game against an even better team (the team that would go onto the semis) helped us begin to turn heads, and make us realize; yes… we were supposed to be there. We were supposed to be playing in top tournaments. We were supposed to be playing the top teams. Simply going out of state to get “the experience of playing other teams” was now behind us. We go out of state to win.
Leaving the tournament with 1-1-1 record at Surf Cup was rewarding and frustrating all at once. Yes, Alaskan soccer has come a long way, and yes, we can now compete… but the flip side has left us with a taste of getting close. Contrary to teams of the past, the Alaskan teams of today train to win… not just to play.
Northern Lights Soccer Club