The South Jersey club soccer team has won the 2017 New Jersey state championship and the Region I youth soccer championship in the 13U division.
Nick Yushchak, Matthew Marino and Andrew Kitch have all played in a bunch of tournaments throughout their youth soccer careers.
However, none of them have ever played in one as big as the tournament they’ll be participating in with the Real Jersey 2004s this week.
Real Jersey, a team consisting of 17 South Jersey youth soccer players born during the 2004 calendar year, is hoping to become the best 13U soccer team in the United States. Real Jersey won both the state championship and Region I youth soccer championships earlier this year and now is hoping to win a pair of national titles. The is participating in the National Cup XVI Finals in Indiana Friday through Monday and then will travel to Frisco, Texas to compete in the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships. That tournament will kick off on Tuesday, July 25 and will wrap up with the national championship game on Saturday, July 29.
“They’re the biggest by far,” Yushchak, a Voorhees resident, said of the national competitions. “Before I played in pretty good tournaments, but I’ve never played in anything like this.”
Qualifying for the national competitions marks the culmination of a year of hard work for the Real Jersey 2004s. The team, which practices and plays its home games in Medford, began competing together last summer and quickly gelled into one of the country’s best.
“A lot of it comes off the field,” said Real Jersey head coach Jon Kopytko, an Eastern Regional High School graduate and assistant coach at Richard Stockton University. “It starts from June of last year, we’re going four days a week. They’re working their butts off. That brings them together as a group.”
Kopytko said the team’s chemistry is its biggest asset. He felt the team was very talented and just needed to develop a strong camaraderie to be successful.
Marino, a Cherry Hill resident, feels the team’s togetherness has been a big reason for its success.
“We’re pretty close,” Marino said. “We’re like brothers. We all help one another out. It’s a pretty great community here.”
“In the beginning, none of us knew each other,” said Kitch, a Medford resident. “We went on to become one of the top teams in the country.”
Real Jersey is the №1 ranked 13U team in the country according to gotsoccer.com. Out of 43 ranked games, the team has just five losses and four ties. Over the past calendar year, the team has won a number of tournaments as well as the 2016 Atlantic Premier Soccer Fall League title.
One of the hallmarks of Real Jersey’s play is its ability to possess the ball. The team relies on controlling time of possession to wear the other team out and reduce the opposition’s offensive chances.
“We possess the ball and pass with each other well,” Yushchak said. “We always know where each other is at all times and we move the ball really well, which tires the team out.”
Kopytko believes his team is playing its best soccer yet entering the national competitions. At US Youth Soccer Region I Championships, the team was a perfect 5–0, winning the regional title with a 2–1 overtime win over Lower Merion Soccer Club Invictus in the championship game.
The toughest part of the regional tournament was playing five games in five days. Kopytko emphasized the importance of nutrition with his team during the tournament and planned to do the same for the national competitions.
“We know a lot about nutrition and recovery, so I’ve really been honing in on that with these kids,” he said. “They’re young and they usually don’t go through that kind of stuff. But they’ve done a good job with it.”
“The regional tournament was really tough because it was really warm outside,” Kitch said. “You don’t really think about that usually, and we had to go up against better competition than we usually do.”
The players were thrilled to win a regional tournament, but Real Jersey has a much bigger goal. Marino said the team discussed winning a national championship last summer and is determined to finish the job this week.
“That was just a stepping stone to where we want to be,” Marino said.
Visit www.medfordsun.com for updates on Real Jersey F.C.’s progress at the national championships.