Rise of a sport

Published 7:53 am Friday, July 13, 2018

With the World Cup of men’s soccer taking place this summer, the sport has been on a lot of people’s minds. In Austin, the U18 boys soccer team has especially been paying attention. In fact, it’s like the majority of the squad will be tuning in when France and Croatia play for the gold medal at 9 a.m. Sunday.

It’s not just that the players like soccer, they also have an appreciation for teams from around the world as the Austin team includes players, who have roots from at least ten different countries.

Igor Blnklow, who will be a junior in Austin this fall, was six years old when his family moved from Poland to Austin, and although he doesn’t have very many memories of living in Poland, the World Cup reminds Blinklow of where he came from.

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“My dad actually wakes me up for every game of the tournament so we can watch it together,” Blnklow said. “We follow it closely.”

David Ruiz of the Austin soccer team said that he hasn’t visited his family in Mexico for six years, but he hasn’t forgotten about them.

“I haven’t been to Mexico in a while and after awhile it begins to disappear, but when you watch the Mexican national team play on TV, it’s kind of nice,” Ruiz said.

With so many Austin soccer players cheering for different teams, the World Cup brings the team together. Sometimes tensions rise amongst the Austin players when their national teams are facing off against each other, but mostly it’s a positive experience.

“We all follow the World Cup and we watch every single game,” said Austin grad OJ Cham, who plays for the U18 team. “They’ve been very competitive and we can learn a lot from it.”

As the Austin soccer team has gained an international flavor, it has also gained in numbers. Austin U18 head coach Cory Goetz estimated the entire varsity program from seventh to 12th grade had about 30 players in 2007. This past fall, the Packers had around 100 players from the high school alone.

Austin has also picked up its quality of play as the team tied for third in the Minnesota Class A State Tournament and it won its first Big Nine title in school history last season.

“Soccer is becoming the popular sport in Austin,” Cham said. “Everyone wants to be part of it and we’re creating the winning environment. Watch out for them this fall. They’re going to be good again, and maybe even better than we were last year.

Read more about the international appeal of soccer as the sport continues to rise in Austin: The World’s Game is thriving: Austin has fielded players with backgrounds from all over the world