Soccer teams lining up for state
WORTHINGTON -- Fans of youth boys soccer in Worthington won't know where to turn this weekend. Three teams will be competing in state tournaments.
The U12 team, coached by father-and-daughter duo Smitty and Nicole Ektnitphong, take on Northfield at 1:30 p.m. Sunday in Lakeville. The squad will compete again in a 5 p.m. game Tuesday against Chippewa State, with a possible state championship game set for Thursday.
The U14 team, coached by Wayne Verdoorn and Jorge Duran, will open at 9 a.m. today in Shakopee against Arsenal FC of the Twin Cities. Next is a 1 p.m. Sunday contest against Wayzata. If Worthington wins both, or scores the most points, it can compete for the championship on Wednesday.
The U17 team, coached by Juan Flores and Ryan Seykora, opens state tourney action at 1 p.m. today in Hugo against Twin Cities Arsenal. The boys play again on Sunday at 1 p.m. against West Tonka. If they win both games, they play Wednesday for the title.
Here's a rundown of all three Worthington teams:
The Worthington U12ers played Wednesday in Hudson, Wis., for a wildcard state tournament berth following a 4-1 victory Tuesday over Wright County. On Wednesday, they shut out Woodbury 4-0.
The team is 9-3-2 on the season and coach Nicole Ektnitphong says cohesion is a strength.
"All of them work really hard and all of them really contribute," she said.
Four players form the nucleus of the team. Goalie Ricky Rodriguez is only 9 years old but provides solid goalkeeping. Ektnitphong said that when the 2013 squad formed at the beginning of the year, the goalie situation was still unsettled. A young Rodriguez provided the answer.
Jonathon Keodouangsy solidifies the middle core of both the offense and defense. A strong, physical player, he is one of the team's top scorers.
The Worthington team only puts one forward on the field, and that player is Mooday Wah. He is the smallest player on the team but very quick and agile, with excellent footwork. Ektnitphong describes him as exceptionally intelligent with the ball.
Jesus Bahena came to the Worthington soccer scene very raw. But he has come a long way, according to Ektnitphong, and has a motor that doesn't quit.
Ektnitphong says she is impressed that her boys are committed soccer players "even at this age."
She adds: "They all started in different levels. Some came in with more skills, some with more experience. But what I really like is that it doesn't matter. ... They always bring the team spirit together. That's what, I think, makes this team thrive. They work together as a group. They stay together as a group."
The Worthington U14 unit dominated its area. Now the team will try to impress the state.
Last weekend the Worthington boys won the Southwest District state qualifying tournament in Fairmont by beating New Ulm 6-1 in the championship game. They posted a 12-0 record in league play this summer and are 15-0 overall.
Ivan Rodriguez is the most experienced player on the team. As a 13-year-old last year he played on the U15 outfit that won the state championship. A forward and strong goal scorer, he's also an outstanding passer.
"He'll make it happen for everybody else, too," said Verdoorn.
Ricky Ibarra and Angel Anaya are two more key players on the U14 squad. Ibarra is important for his versatility. Anaya, a solid goalkeeper, moved away from town at the end of June but will be returning to the team for the state tournament.
Verdoorn likes his team's togetherness.
"These guys have played together a long time," he said. "They're willing to do whatever it takes. There's some of them that walk two or three miles to practice every day."
The U17 team went 11-1 during the regular season and 2-0 in district play, beating Fairmont 9-1 before dispatching Waseca 4-2 for the championship.
The state championship, said Seykora, is "an attainable goal."
"Our biggest strength is our ability to pass the ball," he said. "Very possession-oriented. We have some very good shooters on the team and we have some very good defenders. We think we are a very well-rounded team."
Some of the players that make up the U17 team played on the state championship U15 team. It's a team that has fun, said Seykora, and doesn't suffer when substitutions are made.
Seykora was reluctant to talk about individuals in describing the U17 team, preferring instead to credit their team-oriented attitudes.
"They really play well as a team. They get together outside of soccer as a team. We have 17 kids on our team and they all play well together. They get along well together," he said. "The parents are just proud as can be of the best players and also the kids who are not as strong talent-wise."