Real Jersey FC 2004s hungry for a championship in second shot at nationals

The Medford-based club soccer team is returning to the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships after winning the U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern regional title earlier this month.

Tyler Davidson of Medford kicks the ball during a Real Jersey FC 2004s practice last Tuesday. The practice was one of the team’s final training sessions before departing for Frisco, Texas to compete in the 2018 U.S. Youth Soccer U14 National Championship.

The Real Jersey FC 2004 soccer team finished 2017 as one of the nation’s best when it advanced to the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships and finished in third place.

This year, Real Jersey is returning to nationals. The team was scheduled to kick off its tournament on Tuesday, July 24, after winning the U.S. Soccer 14U Eastern regional title on July 3. Now, Real Jersey is ready to take the next step and win a national championship.

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“I think we’re a lot more motivated,” Tyler Davidson of Medford said. “This is our opportunity to do it.”

Real Jersey includes players from around South Jersey, including Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Medford, Moorestown, Marlton, Berlin and Mullica Hill. The team was originally formed in 2016 under head coach and Eastern grad Jon Kopytko and established itself as one of the nation’s top youth teams last year.

At nationals in Frisco, Texas, however, Real Jersey fell short of a title in 2017. Injuries and the hot weather slowed down the team as it finished 1–2 in pool play.

This year, a big focus for the team was fitness and increasing stamina to keep the players in better shape than last year.

“We play a game every day,” Nick Yushchak of Voorhees said about nationals. “After every game, you have to keep your body healthy and be ready to go for the next game.”

The fitness training has involved lots of long-distance running and sprints. The team has also scheduled some practices for the middle of the afternoon.

“We’re doing a lot of long distance and we’re training in the middle of the day to feel the heat,“ Davidson said.

Like last season, Real Jersey’s players say the team’s focus is on controlling ball possession in each game. Matthew Marino of Cherry Hill said the team is hoping to take things a step further this season.

“Last year’s team, we were more about moving the ball around, possessing, tiring the other team out,” he said. “This year, we were working on the same, moving possession of the ball. We’re working on crosses from different angles.”

Some of the players say they had disappointing performances earlier during the season, pointing to the team’s loss in the finals of the New Jersey Cup in early June as an example. However, with a berth at nationals on the line at the U.S. Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships in late June, Real Jersey dominated. The team went a perfect 5–0 in the tournament to win the regional championship and earn a berth in nationals. Real Jersey managed to go the entire tournament without allowing a single goal.

“We didn’t have too great of a season this year,” Marino said. “We lost our state cup. We didn’t have as good a year as we wanted to, but winning regionals bumped up our confidence a lot.”

Real Jersey will have one big advantage over its opponents when nationals begin. It is the only team with national championship experience in its age group this year. The other teams Real Jersey competed against in nationals last season failed to qualify.

“When I saw the team layout and the schedules, we definitely have an upper hand on the other teams in experience,” Yushchak said.

Davidson believes all of the extra fitness work and Real Jersey’s experience will pay off in the end. He talked excitedly about returning to nationals, calling it the biggest stage a youth soccer player can experience.

“When you get there, it’s a whole different feeling,” he said.

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