This past summer, the United PDX B07 South Premier team coached by Ben Gonzalez and Joel Estrada received quite the awakening at the 2019 President's Cup Regional Youth Soccer Championship.
The U12 boys soccer team composed primarily of players from Gervais, Woodburn and Salem earned a bid to the regional tournament by winning the State Cup in May.
When they arrived in Norco, California in June, the competition was fierce, and the team received an awakening for just how good soccer can be on the west coast.
"It changed our perspective a lot as for what we need to work on, what we could work on and what can get better," Gonzalez said. "That's really keeping them motivated to get better, because there was some very tough competition up there. Competition we haven't played against."
The team went 0-2-1 and failed to make it out of pool play, but the experience they built and the reputation they earned in Oregon as a State Cup winner, helped South Premier earn an invitation this fall into the Northwest Conference, a prestigious league of top tier teams from Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
"It's very exciting," Gonzalez said. "The boys work very hard, so for us to go compete against other teams that aren't around here, it just gives a different perspective to how big this game is and how much fun it can be."
We call it a champions league between us coaches, because that's what it is," said Martin Maldonado, who runs a branch of United PDX club soccer in Gervais and is the new Gervais High School varsity boys soccer coach this year.
"It's the next level, the best of the best in the region," Maldonado said. "They're hungry for the challenge, and it's something that they're eager to start. I think it's the next stage of their development as well."
The team is composed of 16 players, the core of which have been playing together for the past five years. They'll be playing at the 13U level this fall. Half the boys will be entering middle school, the other half are in sixth grade. Throughout the years, the team has become fast friends built from hours of work and success on the pitch.
"These boys have built a lot of friendships around here," Gonzalez said. "The age changed for us two years ago, and we had to drop four boys, but one of them still comes around. I appreciate that very much. Whenever I need help, I can reach out to them."
Competition is already under way for team. League play began with a trip to Seattle in August and they will play each of the seven teams twice, once away and another at home on the turf field at the Nike complex.
Their goal, of course, is to win the league, which comes with an automatic berth to the 2020 regional championship.
"If they end up winning it — even if they do compete in State Cup in May — they will already have a spot," Maldonado said. "It's an extra advantage to win it, because they won't have to wait until May's state cup to try to win a ticket to regionals."
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