The secret of the success of the Medford-based 15U Real Jersey FC soccer team that traveled halfway across the country to claim a national championship?
It just might be the yoga.
Real Jersey FC coach Jon Kopytko made arrangements for his team to have regular visits to Darling Yoga during the team’s weeklong stay in Overland Park, Kansas, last month. Yoga instructor Victor Roberts kept the growing teenagers’ limbs in tip-top shape for the club’s biggest week of the season.
“This was a business trip,” Kopytko said when asked if the team of 14- and 15-year-olds did any team bonding or sightseeing in Kansas. “We met up with a great yoga instructor that helped with our recovery and stretching, and I think that paid significant dividends. I think our boys felt as fresh as they ever have going into that last game. (Roberts) was phenomenal. He told the boys what to eat, when to eat it, to drink to refuel. … I really feel like it paid off for the boys.”
Two days after a recovery session at Darling Yoga, held on the only day off the team had during its stay in the last week of July, Real Jersey FC was crowned the 15U Boys national champions at the United States Youth Soccer National Championships.
After a scoreless first half, Moorestown’s Cade McGrath broke through the defense and out-maneuvered the goalkeeper on a breakaway to deliver what would stand as the game-winning goal. Real Jersey FC defeated PA Dominion (a team based in Montgomery County, Pa.), 2-0, in the championship game.
“I’m definitely not the easiest coach to play for,” Kopytko, a 2004 graduate of Eastern Regional High School, said with a laugh. “All of the stuff they have to put up with me over the year, they take it on the chin. For them to persevere and be able to win a national championship through the course of all the ups and downs throughout the year, it was great to see. My first thought at the end, as the final whistle blew, was how proud I was of the boys and how much they earned it.”
The victory was significant for a couple of reasons for the 19 kids from all across South Jersey who make up Real Jersey FC’s roster.
For one, they had lost to PA Dominion in the finals at regionals, so payback on a bigger stage was sweet. This was also the team’s third straight trip to nationals; it finished in third place two years ago and was runner-up last summer.
Kopytko still remembers his words in the postgame huddle after that defeat.
“When we got together right after we lost, right after shaking hands, I told them I wanted them to remember this moment,” he said. “I know it hurts, and I know it stings, but this is what will drive us and fuel us to get back here a year later.”
The experience of playing at nationals in each of the last two years was clearly crucial. Real Jersey FC knew what to expect and wouldn’t become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment. The yoga sessions surely helped, too. And then there was each player’s determination to maximize their opportunity to make club history.
“It’s hard to think about it from the outside looking in, because a lot of people talk about the talent that we do have, which is true and earned, but my favorite thing about this team is the character,” Kopytko said. “They’re really good kids, they’re funny kids. I’ve had them for three years now, and as you watch them and hear their conversations, sometimes you get caught in between being a coach and a big brother. I’m their coach, but at the end of the day with their personalities and their character it’s hard not to adore the boys.”