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High-pressure matches highlight a memorable PUMA vElite Championship

07/15/2012, 7:40pm CDT
By Madeline Greene

Today’s PUMA vElite Championships brought a new level of excitement to Schwan’s USA CUP, presented by PUMA. Both championship games were filled with pressure and thoughts of the prize for winning the tournament -- a trip to Europe to train with a professional team.

The PUMA vElite tournament is an elite, invitation-only tournament-within-a-tournament that allows ten boys’ teams and eight girls’ teams to vie for the championship title.

The girls’ vElite winning side will be traveling to Europe for a trip to work with Sweden's famous Umeå IK women's side. Umeå has won seven Swedish championships since 2000 and have won the UEFA Women’s Champions League twice while serving as runner-up three times. The boys’ winner will earn an all expense paid trip to England to train with the English Premier League team from Newcastle United.

This year’s boys’ championship game featured a high-pressured, drama-filled match between Minnesota Thunder Academy from the Twin Cities, and La Roca Futbol Club, from Layton, Utah., won by La Roca 3-2, while the So Cal Blues, from Rancho Capistrano, Calif. Nipped the Dakota Rev Rampage, of Minnesota in the girls’ title game 1-0.

La Roca FC’s president Tim Wheelwright explained what the vElite experience had to offer toward his team. “This has been such a great tournament,” said Wheelwright. “USA CUP and the vElite bracket have been awesome. The hospitality and people here in Minnesota are unlike any other. I have been to very few places that would come any where close to the hospitability we’ve felt here.”

For local fans, the big news of this year’s vElite tournament was the fact that two Minnesota teams qualified for the championship matches, after both upset the top teams in the tournament in the semifinals.

Both games highlighted talented players giving their all for the chance to train with their idols. The boy’s game proved to be filled with the most amount of pressure as regulation ended with a tie score, 2-2 and the game was forced to enter overtime and then eight rounds of penalty kicks.

La Roca goalkeeper, Joseph Wheelwright, explained how he dealt with the pressure of the shootout, where a single mistake could end the game.

“I told myself during the penalty kicks to just calm down,” said Joe. “Take it one at a time. I was able to do that and I’m really excited to have the opportunity to go to Newcastle. We’ve been working for this for two months. It’s really great for us to show that this work has really paid off.”

The La Roca team shared their experience and how excited they were to be the 2012 PUMA vElite champions.

“The feeling at the end of the game was indescribable,” said midfielder Lucas Cawley. “All of the hard work we put in made it so much better. We’ve worked for this the whole season. I think we really deserved this. Being a man down in the game and really working the whole time to get it to the end. We wanted to keep playing our style of football.”

“It was our day to win,” Wheelwright said. “We are grateful, we are going to relish it, and we are going to love it. And we look forward to going to Newcastle and training there. It’s going to be wonderful.”

The SoCal Blues also spoke about their vElite experience and what is like to win a tournament like this.

“The most exciting part of the tournament is us winning the trip to Sweden,” said So Cal Blues defender Virginia Reeves. “And for us to just win something. We haven’t really won in a long time so it is great to finally get that feeling and play as a team.”

“Our team has worked really hard in this game and this entire tournament,” said midfielder Kaitlin Klawunder. “I just love my team and we really deserve this.”

“The most exciting thing about the tournament is getting the satisfaction of seeing the girls understand that hard work pays off,” said So Cal Blues coach, Larry Draluck. “That is a very valuable lesson that we try to instill upon them all the time. But people are people and a lot of times they give less than what they can. Human instinct takes over. So for them to achieve that is a pleasure for me.”

Their coach explained why this group is unique and had what it takes to win it all.

“This is a very together group. They pull for one another, they fight for one other. Our staple is team defense and in order to play as a team defensively you have to be willing to sacrifice for one another. They behaved very well, they were very organized and disciplined. And they did all of the right things.”

While both of the champion coaches were excited about their championships, they also shared their respect and admiration toward their competitors.

“Minnesota Thunder Academy is a great team,” said Wheelwright. “They have incredible players and it is too bad that there had to be a winner and a loser here today because both teams did great.”

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Tag(s): July 15, 2012