A dream six-plus years in the making recently became a reality for a collection of local boys soccer players.
The Aggies FC ’09 Blue squad certainly made the most of its first time competing in the Utah State Cup. The talented soccer team went undefeated at the Beehive State’s most prestigious tournament en route to capturing the U12 title. The tourney was held from May 17-29 at the Regional Athletic Complex in Salt Lake City.
This is the first time a boys club team comprised entirely of Cache Valley athletes has won a State Cup championship. Darrin Christensen coached the Infinity ’06 DC girls side to the U11 title in May of 2017.
“Oh, it’s incredible,” Aggies FC ’09 head coach Casey Ashcroft said. “It’s also very relieving. We’ve been telling these boys about State Cup since they were 5 and so they’ve had their eye on this for a while. And to win it the first time we ever go to it was just surreal. It was amazing.”
Aggies FC only lost once during the 2021 campaign and was able to get revenge against that opponent, a Sparta side, in pool play during the State Cup. Parker Burton buried a penalty kick late in the second half to propel Aggies FC past Sparta by a 1-0 scoreline.
It was one of three shutouts in six matches for Aggies FC, which outscored the opposition by an impressive 28-4 margin at the tournament.
“Our backline boys were making huge sacrifices. Parker Burton was given almost every day a very hard task to guard one of (the opponents’) main attackers, and he just did an amazing job shutting them down,” said Ashcroft, who also singled out defenders Nixon Harris, Cooper Hunt, Jordan Hoyt and Cannon Christensen by name. “And all of our defenders were just so solid, even sacrificing their bodies to protect the goal. And our goalkeeper, Eli (Steele), he was amazing. He’s like spiderman. He’s small and he’s a deceptive. You just don’t realize how that guy can reach and get balls, and especially in the Sparta game that we won 1-0, he was amazing.”
It was a complete team effort for an Aggies FC side that had several players contribute in the attack. Five Aggies FC athletes scored a combined seven goals in three knockout stage matches. Stockton Ashcroft and Damien Pena recorded braces in the team’s 5-1 victory over a different Sparta squad in the semifinals. Christensen found the back of the net in his team’s 1-0 triumph over Wasatch in the quarterfinals.
“I think it’s very hard to play defensively against a team that moves the ball the way we do and, therefore, gives multiple players good looks at goal,” coach Ashcroft said.
The tournament was divided into four pools of four teams each. Aggies FC won its pool and smashed its two opponents outside of the aforementioned Sparta side. Steele made an extremely difficult one-handed reaction save against Sparta, coach Ashcroft said.
Aggies FC squared off against the West Valley City-based squad Utah Soccer Alliance (USA) in the finals, and it was a battle of attrition. Casen Thompson gave Aggies FC a 1-0 lead in the second half, but Edward Chadwick equalized for USA with five or so minutes left in regulation. Matches in this division feature two 30-minute halves.
Both backlines held firm during the two 10-minute overtime sessions, and the championship showdown was decided in a shootout. Hoyt, Ashcroft, Harris and Hayden Miller converted from the penalty spot for Aggies FC, which prevailed in the shootout, 4-2. USA pinged a couple of its penalty kicks off the woodwork.
It was the kind of resilient performance Aggies FC needed to claim the title, which came as no surprise to coach Ashcroft, who raved about the “work rate” of his players.
“We had a slogan, a motto that we stole from the Spurs, the San Antonio Spurs, which is pound the rock, this notion that we keep pounding the rock because you never know when it’s going to break,” coach Ashcroft said. “And when it does break, it’s not that hit that did it, it’s all the ones before. And so we used that as a motto, that you just keep working. No matter what the score is, you just keep working hard and good things will happen.”
Another strength of the team was its ability to string together passes and control the possession battle, coach Ashcroft asserted. Assistant coach Morgan Carlson was instrumental in that aspect of the game, coach Ashcroft said. Coach Ashcroft is also assisted by Jake Carlson and Lars Latimer.
“The other thing is Morgan Carlson has done a great job from when they were very little of getting them to be a passing team and to play quickly,” coach Ashcroft said. “And they really showed their composure and ability to pass in this tournament, and just really wore teams out in some games with their passing.”
Was coach Ashcroft confident a State Cup title was a legitimate goal heading into the tourney?
“We were playing really well and it seemed like the stars were aligning and that we were peaking at the right time, and so it gave me a lot of confidence that we would do well in the State Cup,” he said. “Then, as we kept going through the State Cup, we gained more and more confidence. The boys played I think even better in the State Cup than they had in the season.”
Once Aggies FC made it to the finals, coach Ashcroft said he did his best to encourage his players to relax and relish the moment.
“(I told them) ‘you don’t have to go out there and prove anything today. You’ve already proven that you’re a great team and you’ve proven that each individual belongs on this team, and so you don’t have to prove anything today. Just go out there and enjoy the experience,’” he said. “That was my message before the final game because that’s how I felt.”
In addition to the aforementioned athletes, the Aggies FC roster was comprised of William Latimer, Giovani Popoca Lopez, Stockton Hansen and Griffin Young.
“They’re just a good group of boys that are buddies,” coach Ashcroft said. “They’ve been together for so long that they really care for each other and work hard for each other.”