United we stand

Steamboat United dominates tournament, earns trip to Invesco Field

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— Their shorts drop free below their knees, and their shirts hang off their shoulders, but even a group of 10-year-olds can't hide from the popularity of soccer in Steamboat.

Or from the success.

At the recent Stenger Invitational tournament in Denver over Memorial Day weekend, a local group of 10-year-olds took first place, outscoring the opposition 33-1.

Steamboat United defeated the Bear Creek Fireballs 2-0 to capture a gold medal and the right to walk across the field during the Parade of Champions at an upcoming Colorado Rapids game at Invesco Field at Mile High.

If you guessed they are excited, you would be right.

"I was like, 'Oh my gosh,'" starting goalie Phillip Riley said. "There will be a lot of people."

Behind a strong support staff of parents, including coaches Wade Miller and Mark Bertrand, the 11 kids on the traveling team have grown from friends into teammates.

"We've known each other since preschool," Grant Murray said.

And they've played soccer nearly as long. Most started participating in the sport between the ages of 4 and 6. The stories on how they began vary from kid to kid, but the level of fun and energy they have seems to run even across the board.

"They are outstanding," Miller said. "They have a lot of love for the sport and are very dedicated to the sport."

During the competitive season they practice two nights a week for up to two-and-a-half hours. The first part is spent running and learning new skills. Then they get to do the best part scrimmage.

"We've gotten a lot better," Derek Morris said. "We play just to have fun, and we get along most of the time."

At such a young age it's important to emphasize the social aspects of the sport rather than the number of medals won. The team will advance to the U-11 division in August and magazines and newspapers start ranking teams at that point, Miller said. Fortunately, the kids seem to understand why they step in between the lines.

"We play every day at recess," Colton Harding said. "Every time we play we have fun."

But that doesn't mean those friendly schoolyard games aren't competitive.

"Sometimes we start getting into it too much," Marky Hoovler said.

Two of the children attend Christian Heritage and the rest of the kids go to Soda Creek Elementary, and while they are no longer together during the school day, they remain close friends, which may be responsible for part of their success.

The group of mothers gathered at the top of the practice field at Colorado Mountain College on Wednesday said the boys respect each other on and off the field and never get down when a teammate makes a mistake.

What they have improved on the most passing isn't normally an aspect of the sport such young kids develop a passion for.

"My favorite part of the game isn't scoring," Brian Bertrand said. "My favorite part is assisting."

Spoken just like the son of a coach.

Coach Bertrand is originally from Paris, so he knows a thing or two about soccer.

"There it is the national sport," he said.

France is the defending World Cup Champions, and while the United States' legacy in the quadrennial global gala is more embarrassing than euphoric, those 10-year-olds knew the answer to Miller's World Cup question Wednesday.

"Who watched some World Cup?"

"The U.S. beat Portugal," they all screamed.

The highlights were on SportsCenter.

The level of talent is different between World Cup athletes and 10-year-old players. Miller said there are distinct differences in skill level between the top Front Range clubs and the teams in Steamboat.

Snow, while fun to ski and snowboard on, is not conducive to year-round soccer play. Clubs down in Denver begin practicing in February, so when the kids actually get on a field in Steamboat, there is some catch up work to be done. In other words, conditioning.

"The coaches are nice," Sam Glaisher said. "They work us pretty hard."

"We've learned to work more as a team," Tate Tellier said. "And that's a big part of the game."

So is confidence, which the boys have a large supply of in reserve. In just their second competitive tournament, excluding the Western Slope Developmental League, they claimed top honors.

"I thought maybe we'd get third," Jordy Bernard said. "But after the first two games we knew we would win."

Miller sees potential in the group and said they could enjoy vast amounts of success if they stay together and continue to focus on soccer. In Steamboat, however, kids are often involved in a wide variety of activities.

The same holds true for his team, including his son Taylor, who has developed a passion for lacrosse already.

"I think some people will go to other sports," Taylor Miller said.

But right now they will just stick to being typical 10-year-olds having fun playing soccer and being pretty excited school's out.

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