Oh, so close.
Oh, so close, again.
For the second consecutive year, FC Copa Academy G06 Black reached a national youth soccer final but did not take home the winners’ trophy or medals. In 2021, the New Jersey side lost in the US Club Girls Under-15 championship game. And this year July 24, FC Copa fell in a shootout to Libertyville FC 1974 Elite-06 Girls (Ill.) in the U-16 final at the Disney Wide World of Sports in Kissimmee, Fla.
“It’s been two years in a row with kind of a heartbreak,” head coach Roberto Aguas said. Through some 30 years of coaching, Aguas has just about seen and experienced it all. He has won championships — two national titles — has reached several national finals, has participated in many a victory and has been a part of some defeats, some of them disappointing results. “I know the way that ball bounces, having been a player, a coach and director,” he said. “It was tough because I think we are nearly there.” Given how many teams vie for national glory, second place in the competition certainly isn't not too shabby, but players and coaches would rather have a gold medal than a silver one to wear.
To put things into proper perspective, this is how close FC Copa came to winning a national title this year. The team played its Illinois rivals to a scoreless draw in regulation and extra time before losing in penalty kicks, 4-3. FC Copa converted its first three tries, but Libertyville goalkeeper Kate Hopma saved it’s final two attempts. “We had chances to put it away that would have put us up 1-0,” Aguas said. “But it just wasn’t meant to be.” “So, just unlucky. I think you make your own luck. I think we’ve done some great things this year to make our luck and own ways to compete.” Still, it didn't deter FC Copa from taking home some memories of a lifetime. “The experience was fantastic,” Aguas said. “The fields are awesome at Disney. The competition was very good.” FC Copa booked a spot in the nationals by having an outstanding USYS National League P.R.O. season in which it finished with a sterling 7-0-0 mark and outscoring its foes, 23-0. There was even more success in the USYS National League North Atlantic Conference Academy Division, going 7-0-1 and surrendering but five goals. “We were the only team in our age group that was undefeated and didn’t allow a goal,” Aguas said. “We ended up EDP Club vs. Club undefeated. So, we’re going into it very successful.” The Jersey side needed only two group matches — both wins — to reach the semifinals after the other teams played to draws. FC Copa blanked League 30 L30 Masia G06 (Utah) in its Group B opener, following up with a 2-1 victory over Cincinnati United CUP 06G Gold (Ohio) before playing Lower Merion SC Impact (Pa.) to a 1-1 draw in its final first-round encounter.
That set up a confrontation against nemesis Real Jersey FC in the semis. Real had beaten FC Copa in the New Jersey State Cup final, 5-0. This time FC Copa avenged that loss with a 2-1 victory, which boosted the team into the final. Defeating Real Jersey was the most memorable moment for FC Copa. “Real Jersey kind of dominated the scene recently in the 06 age group,” Aguas said. Katelyn Figueiredo, Sienna Petrol and Audra Toth tallied the game-winners in the team’s respective three triumphs, Aguas said. Besides some talented opponents, FC Copa had to battle the heat and humidity of Central Florida. During the semifinals against Real Jersey, field temperatures reached 105 degrees, Aguas said. “It was difficult to deal with,” he said. “What gets us through a lot of those things is our organization.” Eighteen years ago, Aguas founded FC Copa, which now has almost 70 teams in three locations. “When we approach events like this, we spend a significant amount of time with them on body recovery, making sure we manage the time off the field with ice baths and a lot of meetings,” he said. “We spend a lot of time in meetings not only speaking about the X’s and O’s but more importantly, speaking about psychology, mental strain, and team bonding.” At tournaments, FC Copa coaches make sure the players are eating right and are not in the pool and “not running around,” Aguas said, adding that players were “fairly fresh,” and not “fatigued” for the tournament. “Interesting enough the heat did not have a major impact,” he said.
Two FC Copa players were named to the Best XI team - center back Gabriella Freeman and center midfielder Figueiredo. Goalkeepers Erika Kangas and Danielle Iannelli also stood out, Aguas said. “The keepers were just outstanding. They stood on their heads. They were amazing,” he added. What makes FC Copa unique is that the majority of the team has been playing together since they were 10- or 12-years-old. “Our philosophy is a little bit different than many other organizations,” Aguas said. “We try to keep our players. We want to develop players.”
Aguas noted that Figueiredo and Toth were on FC Copa’s second team in the age group when they joined the club years ago, before they worked their way up to the first squad.
“Now they’re playing for national championships,” he said. “I think that closeness that we build with them makes a big difference. We’ve been doing that for 18 years. That’s why we’ve had the kind of success that we’ve had with 400-plus players in college, 30 professional players out of this organization because the model that we follow. I can’t speak enough about this group of young ladies and the work that they’ve done this year. I can say that this is probably one of the most exceptional groups [I’ve had]. What they achieved this year is pretty remarkable.”
After the high school season ends in October, Aguas already has plans to have his team participate in several EDP Showcase events, the Jefferson Cup, and participate in the new USYS National League Elite 64 that will begin in the fall for the top 64 boys and girls teams in the U-13 through U-18/19 teams in the country. Teams will play a minimum of 14 league games during a 10-month season. “We’re going to be traveling quite a bit as well,” he said. To top it off, FC Copa and Aguas hope to be traveling back to Disney come next July.