Although the American Youth Soccer Organization is the oldest of the national youth soccer organizations, it traditionally does not get a significant amount of respect when it comes to developing quality soccer players.
Well, coach Jake Dopson and his group of U-13 girls, AYSO United White, is looking to change that.
When the U.S. Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championships start Monday in Boise, Idaho, the team will be the first AYSO squad from New Mexico to participate as state champion. In the tournament that includes the state champions from 13 western states (California sends a champion from the north and south regions of the state) in age brackets from U-13 to U-19, only one other AYSO team is competing – in the U-18 boys group from Arizona.
“Our challenge is from a talent and branding perspective because AYSO always has this national reputation of a recreational league with parent-coaches,” Dopson said. “But we play in the Duke City league with every bit of the same structure of organization and structure of coaching as every other club in the city.”
And while Dopson is a parent coach with a daughter on the team, he holds a U.S. Soccer Federation Class D license and is one of five coaches for the team.
The team is part of AYSO’s competitive club program, which differs significantly from its recreational arm. Players have to try out and are grouped together by ability – just as with other clubs. Continuity among the players and staff are crucial, as opposed to the recreational side, where rosters are jumbled annually.
“We have good kids who are very coachable and play hard,” Dopson said. “And great families who are very supportive. Getting everybody on the same page isn’t our challenge.”
The challenge, he said, has been overcoming the AYSO reputation.
“For whatever reason, the stigma behind AYSO is it is always seen as just a rec team. But results help. That’s why us winning State Cup is such a big deal. When you win State Cup and are the first to do it, it speaks to the quality that you have.”
The players were unaware of exactly what was on the line until midway through the State Cup tournament.
“It was super exciting,” said attacking midfielder Jessa Malizzo, 13. “We were not only playing to be state champions, but we were playing to be the first ever AYSO state champions. It pumped us up a little more to be the first AYSO state champion.”
It didn’t come easily. United White had to go to an overtime shootout to beat Rio Rapids Burgundy after two scoreless halves and two scoreless overtime periods.
“Our whole team went in a giant huddle jumping and screaming,” attacking midfielder Madlyn Dopson said of the jubilation when the shootout was decided by an errant Rio attempt. “A lot of players were in tears. We were all so excited and happy that we won.”
United White joins four other girls teams and six boys teams from New Mexico in playing bracket games Monday through Wednesday.
Those who advance will go to the knockout round beginning Thursday, with finals set for June 26. Winners move on to the National Championships July 19-24 in Orlando, Florida.
The team received a relatively benign draw, facing Alaska, Utah and Montana. However it also is in a bracket alongside traditionally powerful Cal North and Cal South programs.
Just getting this far, however, is quite an accomplishment.
“I’m very excited,” Madlyn Dopson said. “It’s a really great opportunity that most players don’t get to have. I’m excited to play some quality teams and get some competition. It will probably be a little bit rocky, but it’s a good tournament, and the teams we’re playing are very tough and good. Overall, I’m excited and a little bit nervous.”