Dorchester youth football team break down barriers on their way to the national tournament

Speaking to one of the parents of players from Valeo FC Boston 2007, a men’s soccer team based in Dorchester, it’s easy to see how passionate everyone is about the team.

It’s also clear the players and their families are having a ‘pinch’ moment as the boys prepare to play in the National Club Soccer Cup final just outside Denver, the biggest stage for the country’s youth club teams. The Dorchester side will compete in the U-15 Men’s Premier Division from Sunday.

For players and their families, it’s a chance to represent Boston on a whole new level — and maybe get some cool looks from college scouts.

“We are still in shock,” said Kristin Jurkoic, whose son is in his first year with the club, during a team training session on Monday. “You know parents are all on WhatsApp [group chat] together and it may take a few days for someone to text, “Is this really happening? Did it happen ? »

Valeo ’07 makes history as the first downtown Boston men’s team to qualify for the national tournament. And doing so was no small feat. The team basically needed to go through its regular season undefeated, get to its regional tournament in New Jersey, and then win its final game of the tournament by at least four goals (they won 8-1).

Head coach Tony Cardoso, who has coached some of these boys since the age of 5, thought the team had a chance to go far at the start of the season.

“But I didn’t expect Nationals,” he admitted. “It’s a big accomplishment, going to nationals right now in Colorado, I think that’s everybody’s dream.”

For the players, the gravity of the moment sinks even further.

“I mean, to be honest, I didn’t know that existed,” 14-year-old fullback Simon Hay-Sutton said with a laugh.

Before starting practice on Monday, the boys exchanged jokes and blows during the warm-up, and a few of them played wrestling. Once on the pitch, however, it was all business as Cardoso put them through some drills and some final tweaks for the national stage.

“[Cardoso] told us at the start of the season that the goal was to do regionals, and we kind of understood what that meant, but we didn’t know it could turn into something like that,” Hay said. -Sutton.

But young players quickly realize what it means to get such a spotlight.

Forward Zach Sealy has ambitions to play the game in college. He sees the tournament as a step to help him achieve that goal.

“It is exactly what it is,” he said. “[College scouts] look at what we’ve done and they’re like, ‘OK, this is serious. [He’s] a high-level player who has experience in high-level situations that we can trust in our team and give him an opportunity.

Lenira Cardoso’s son Jason has been with Valeo since second year and also hopes to play in college. She sees that same opportunity for top college scouts to see what the boys are up to.

“I think it will open doors for them, for these kids,” she said.

“It’s a big accomplishment, going to nationals right now in Colorado, I think that’s everybody’s dream.”

Tony Cardoso, Head Coach

Cardoso said Valeo FC in Newton had other teams that qualified for the big tournament, but he believes his team is downtown Boston’s first.

Valeo’s great achievement ’07 comes with hurdles that more suburban, well-funded teams wouldn’t have to face. Jurkoic stressed that the team was not training at a fancy private facility, but on public ground at Roberts Playground in Dorchester.

“You know, lenses have holes in them,” she said. “This is where we train. Some days. Some days it gets canceled because we don’t have the land, and we don’t have any other land.

These challenges haven’t stopped the team from competing at a high level. But the high cost of sending an entire team of teenagers across the country was a major hurdle for Valeo to overcome.

The team set up a GoFundMe to help raise money for the trip and raised over $54,000 in just over three weeks. Most donations were small successes of $25 or $50. But Imperial Cars, a Mendon and Milford-based dealership, topped everyone else with an out-of-the-box $20,000 donation – even though no one on the team has a relationship with them.

For Cardoso, the meaning of this generosity of friends and strangers is simple.

“Just we’re not going [having] worry about the date of the next paycheck? How do I get my son to go there? he said. “And not [having] worrying about the financial part, I think that’s the most important thing. And just to see them come out and play.

Now it’s just up to the team to make an impact at the national tournament. But even if they don’t win a single game, the players – whose families hail from places like Cape Verde, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Ireland and more – reflect the melting pot that is Dorchester. Cardoso said one of the players didn’t speak English well, so his teammates tried their best to speak to him in Spanish.

This cohesion is what the coach expects the most in Colorado.

“The team, the parents and just us being united there, that’s what I’m looking forward to,” he said. “Because we had such a great time together in New Jersey. You know, lunch together, dinner together and all that stuff right there. So it’s just something you can’t get enough of, you can’t to have enough.

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