The nation's elite youth soccer players are coming to Edmond.
Over the next week, 208 teams featuring 3,600 soccer players will sprint across the grass in Edmond in search of victories that will advance them to the National Finals in Overland Park, Kan., youth soccer's version of the Final Four.
First though, the teams must win their region's title at the 2013 US Youth Soccer Region III (South) Championship, which begins Friday and continues through Thursday, June 27. The event is estimated to provide an economic impact of more than $8 million to the area and a few divots in the fields at Edmond Soccer Complex.
“It is an honor to hold the US Youth Soccer Southern Regionals in Edmond,” Carl Tipton, chair of the local organizing committee, said in a press release. “Soccer means a great deal to this community. We are delighted to host the best players and teams from across the region in this elite competition and utilize our top-tier facilities and volunteers.”
The event was last held in Oklahoma in 1999. These youth soccer players come from 12 regionals that make up the South Region: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Texas, South Carolina, South Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma. They've made it here by winning their individual state championships or a smaller regional championship.
Oklahoma Football Club 95 Boys, or OFC 95 for short, is one of the teams that made it by winning the Oklahoma state championship. Club coach Jack Kurey, who coaches Putnam City North's girls team at the high school level, is well versed in what is considered the oldest youth championship in America. He played in it for three years as a member of the Royals FC 78 squad and has coached the OFC 95 boys for three years, including to this event last year.
“Luckily for us, we've been here before and as a group, I think this is actually their third time,” Kurey said. “For us, we're kind of looking it as our boys get to sleep in their own bed, they get to kind to live life normally and still go through this event.
“Last year we were in North Carolina for, I think, eight days. So being the home team, it's a big advantage for us to kind of calm down.”
Kurey said the event, both as a player and a coach, can be nerve-wracking. With teams coming from so far away, it's hard to know what to expect from the opponent. There is really no ability to scout, and there are no easy games.
“Every team has been tested or a champion in their own area of the nation,” Kurey said. “It's one of those events where everybody is. I like to just try and keep an even keel and level heads. Level heads will prevail in games that are close like this.”
Luckily for Kurey, his team is made up of the best metro area boys who just graduated from high school. Twelve of his 17 players are headed to play in college, from NAIA to Division I schools. There's Austin Place, who is headed to the University of Buffalo, and Evan Helker, the top goalkeeper in Oklahoma.
Somewhat unluckily, OFC 95 drew the section of the draw that holds Solar, a team from Texas. They're the team that knocked out OFC 95 last year, 1-0 off an own goal. Solar then beat OFC 95 again in March, this time 4-3.
“It's going to be a close game,” Kurey said of the possible rematch. “We've developed a style of play that is oriented around possession and trying to control the ball in order to try and control the game.
“This event is one of those things that you could look at as, ‘OK this is your last go-round, the last time for Regionals,' but we're taking it as, ‘This is just a jumping off point' for most of our boys to the rest of their soccer careers.”