The World Cup’s four-week celebration of soccer will preoccupy millions of fans worldwide through mid-July.
But a youth soccer team local to University City will bring people together on a different level while it plays for a championship of its own.
The Angel Boys, a 19-under boys’ all-star squad representing the AYSO Region 605 program based at Mallard Creek Park, will travel to Torrance, Calif., for the AYSO National Games on June 29-July 7.
The team represents a nonprofit organization named Michael’s Moon, which promotes teen safety awareness, athletic and academic achievement and acts of community charity.
Coach Mike Martin invited six players from Walnut, Calif., to join 10 local Angel Boys players, not only to complete his tournament roster but to share in the team’s kind-hearted mission.
“I’m excited to see how our strengths of play can mesh together,” said Angel Boys defender Dylan Kaplan, a 2014 Mallard Creek High graduate. “I’m excited to see how we come together as a team.”
The American Youth Soccer Association has built a national reputation as a recreational program that supports balanced teams, guarantees playing time and practices good sportsmanship, principals Martin says he shares.
In 2006, Region 605 fielded its first all-star teams to play in the AYSO national championships, in Chicago.
In September 2005, Martin’s teenage son, Michael J. Martin, and Central Cabarrus soccer teammate Andy Janda were killed in an automobile accident. The incident inspired Mike and his wife, Bonnie, to advocate for teen safety and establish Michael’s Moon in their son’s honor. Mike Martin has served as an assistant or head coach for AYSO all-star teams since.
AYSO national tournaments are held every even-numbered year, and 24 teams are selected through a national lottery.
After the 2006 tournament in Chicago, Region 605 sent teams to Hawaii in 2008, Palm Beach in 2010 and Knoxville, Tenn., in 2012, where the Angel Boys had their best national finish, taking third.
The championship-tournament format includes a round of pool play among 24 teams and a single-elimination format for the top eight.
Bobby Stamper, a 2013 Vance High graduate and current UNC Charlotte student, was a new Angel Boys player when the team traveled to Knoxville. His father, Robert Stamper, is the team’s business manager.
“We did pretty well,” said Bobby Stamper. “It was my first tournament with them. It was a great experience. We got the (AYSO) sportsmanship medal.”
Angel Boys tryouts were held in February. Players from Region 605’s recreational teams were selected.
The cost for the trip to Torrance this year is $1,200. Martin says financial considerations sometimes limit the number of players able to attend a national tournament. Among the 10 local players, four are being sponsored or partly sponsored by the Michael’s Moon charity.
At the end of May, Martin contacted Jose Anzoategui, coach of an AYSO team from Walnut, Calif., east of Los Angeles, to invite some players to play with the Angel Boys.
“I looked up teams in that area that put their names in the lottery (but weren’t selected),” said Martin. “They were really excited. They saw the (Michael’s Moon) website and they said, ‘That’s what we want to do.’ ”
The Angel Boys’ plane will land in California on June 30, and they will play their first game July 2.
Between the flight and the game, the Angel Boys and their new teammates will get to know one another through a scrimmage and training session.