Cache Valley gets a big kick out of soccer
Soccer is becoming one of the sports that Cache Valley residents just can't seem to get enough of.
Youth, women's, co-ed, men's and adult leagues are all flourishing, and participation and enjoyment of the "beautiful game," the name that Pele, the Brazilian soccer great, called it, is on the rise.
Not much is known about the origin of the game of "football," or as we Americans call it, soccer. It is said that the Greeks and Romans played football and other ball-kicking games. The first rules were set in 1863 by the London Football Association. British sailors and settlers brought the game to India, South America and Europe.
Late in the 19th century, soccer was brought to the United States. It didn't become popular until after World War I. Soccer became an Olympic event in 1908. Hungary has won the most Olympic gold medals in soccer since 1952, and that country has three.
The game is slowly becoming more popular each year. When the United States women's team won the World Cup in 1999, popularity surrounding the game grew in both females and males. It has slowly been integrated into an intercollegiate sport and is beginning to show up in many physical education programs at schools around the country. Many local communities, such as Logan, have started youth soccer leagues for children of all ages.
Utah State University women's soccer Assistant Coach Brent Anderson says that competition is getting better as more people integrate the game into their physical routines.
"The players' ability in Cache Valley is getting better. There are a growing number of players being offered scholarships and being recruited for college soccer," Anderson said.
Anderson says competition is also flourishing because of the availability of indoor facilities that can offer soccer leagues, clinics and play time year-round, especially during the winter months.
"With the Ultimate Sports Arena and the Stan Laub Training Center, there is soccer going on year-round in the valley," he said. "I think that really improves the quality of soccer here. It used to be six months or so of training and then you would have to sit out because of the snow, but now kids are playing and training 365 days a year."
Levels of competition are being raised by the year, according to Anderson, who is also part-owner of the Ultimate Sports Arena indoor soccer facility. He says that in the youth soccer leagues there continues to be an increase in the number of participants and overall skill level every year.
Cache Valley has actually lost a lot of players in the past few years, Anderson says. "But I think overall that the youth players are being exposed to coaches that have actually played the game or have coaches training."
Heather Cox, recently departed defender on USU's women's soccer team, said coaches that are available in the valley are second to none. "The experience that my coaches, Stacey Enos and Jenn Kennedy-Croft, gave to me were invaluable. They both played at big-time soccer programs, Stacey playing at the University of North Carolina and Jenn at the University of Connecticut, and now are not only bringing their experience to college-level players but also to the youth in Cache Valley."
High school players in Cache Valley have definitely come under the spotlight in the past few years. Anderson said at least one or even all of the men's or women's teams high school teams are in the hunt for the State Championship.
Utah State's teams suffered through a disappointing time in the 2000 season. The women's team, in NCAA Division I, was in its fifth season being a Division 1 school and finished the season with a record of five wins and 12 losses. The men's team, a club team in which players must pay dues to play, stumbled to an even worse season than the women did.
Anderson says that the USU women's team has a lot of great athletes, and he feels they will be able to rebound and have a great season next fall; he doesn't know about the men's team, which has had three coaches in three seasons.
Anderson says that the one thing he sees as being a stepping stone for soccer to take off is the growing opportunities for players to play in game situations and practice. He says this is very evident in the adult leagues, especially the 25 years and older league.
Cox agrees with Anderson in that competition and skill level is improving. "Soccer in Cache Valley is definitely on the rise and can only get better," she said.
Having played in the Logan Outdoor City League for the past two seasons, this writer can attest to how much more talented players are getting. I only started playing soccer about six years ago and have improved all of my soccer skills.
Indoor soccer is my favorite type, because it is a fast-paced and furious adrenaline rush. There are only five players on the field including a goalkeeper, instead of the normal 10 players and goalie in outdoor soccer. The field is much smaller in indoor soccer and you have walls to assist you in playing the ball to other players.
Soccer in Cache Valley is on the way to becoming one of the most popular and entertaining sports around. As long as coaches and players continue to want to be the best and compete at the highest competition levels, soccer will continue to be the "beautiful game."