When the 19U Boys Maroon from Nashville United Soccer Academy (NUSA) saw their incredible season come to a close at the US Youth Soccer National Championships in Orlando this past July, an emotional period of reflection began to occur. Not only was the team one of the most successful in state history on the pitch, but an amazing journey had taken place outside the field of play as well.
“A big part of our mission as a club is to make the game accessible to more kids, regardless of their social or economic background,” said Robbie Stewart, NUSA Executive Director. “We offer financial aid or scholarships to many of the players throughout our club, and many of them have been here since the club was started seven years ago. At NUSA, we focus heavily on raising funds and offsetting costs to provide opportunities to kids who may not be able to play competitive club soccer otherwise.”
NUSA 2003 Boys Maroon is a perfect example of what can happen when young players are given the chance to embrace a soccer culture while also developing in a structured environment that sets them up for success. The group was the first team from Middle Tennessee to become Southern Regional Champions, and they were just the third in state history to advance to the USYS National Championships by winning the regional crown.
While these results make the NUSA 19U Boys Maroon one of the most accomplished teams in Tennessee state history, Stewart says that team results have never been what is most important to the coaches and executive staff at NUSA.
“One of the things we talk about more than anything with our club is that the players must always come first,” he stated. “Before we make any decisions as a club, we first determine if it is in the best interest of our players. Our focus is not on teams and team results. As an organization, we concentrate on the long-term growth and development of every individual player, and that is what ultimately leads to team success. We also want to make sure that we never forget the most important objective, and that is for our players to have fun.”
This type of approach played a critical role in the NUSA 2003 Boys Maroon achieving such an incredible level of success, and head coach John Sintic spoke about some of the other elements that made the team so unique.
“This was a special group of young men,” he said. “They were a very diverse group that lived in both the inner-city and the suburbs, but they all bought into the idea of being united for a common mission. Regardless of what their background may have been, they all truly came together like brothers and family.”
After winning the Southern Regional Championship, which was hosted by the Tennessee State Soccer Association in Murfreesboro, the NUSA 19U Boys advanced to the largest stage in US Youth Soccer when they played in the National Championships at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. The team represented Tennessee extremely well in the tournament but unfortunately saw its amazing run conclude in group play.
“These players have always had such an incredible amount of respect for the club, each other and all of us as coaches,” said Sintic. “They handled themselves in defeat with incredible class and respect. When we came together after our final game, there was not a dry eye in the group. What it showed me was, beyond the results of the game, they just loved each other so much. We had young men from so many different types of backgrounds, but it did not matter where they drove from or what kind of car they drove up in. At the end of the day, they were brothers and family. As a coach, there is nothing more gratifying than that.”
The story of NUSA 2003 Boys Maroon is a perfect depiction of everything that soccer represents. As the global game, soccer can connect individuals on a personal level despite what their cultural or financial background may be. Soccer serves as a common language that can be spoken in a poetic form once those individuals step onto the field as a team. When the conversation shifts to solely what is happening between the four lines of the playing field, we are all witnessed to why soccer is called the beautiful game, as evidenced by this diverse group that came together and ultimately reached the grandest stage of youth soccer.
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