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Blog: How to become champions in the USA

When our UK players began preparations for the 7 Elite Academy International Tournament way back in 2019, the world was a very different place.

Just before the Covid pandemic really broke cover, a team of UK players and staff made the trip to Mesquite in Nevada in February 2020.

It was the trip of a lifetime – this is the remarkable story of how a group of lads from Merseyside brought home the title of Tournament Champions.

First, the fundraising. Carried out over six months or so, our players were given the task of raising cash to make the trip happen. A key element of fundraising was to show our youngsters the results of hard work – these things don’t happen by themselves.

So off they went to carry out countless bag packs at supermarkets, bucket collections at Premier League matches and even marathons in the city centre. It wasn’t easy of course, but each event took them a step closer to Nevada.

And the day itself. Passports safely packed (mostly…) bags labelled, kit prepared. They were in the airport and suddenly, on the plane to Las Vegas with a pit stop in New York. It was a tight schedule with just under a week in the United States, so every minute mattered.

After checking in at the amazing Rising Star Sports Ranch in Mesquite, it was time for bed. The lads had been travelling for almost 24 hours, after all.

The next day? It was time for something completely different. The players were given a tour of Dixie State University by Johnny Broadhead, Head Coach of Dixie State Soccer and himself a 7 Elite Academy staff member. An incredible location.

With one eye on their future prospects, these lads made key contacts with staff and students on campus. In a few years, some of them will to be aiming for College scholarships in Utah.

But there wasn’t time to rest. The next day they were in the hot Nevada sun at Mesquite, taking on their 7 Elite Academy 05 counterparts in the first group game. Victory was vital and with it, top spot in their group. They duly obliged with a 3-2 win.

They were back in action that same evening against FC Fire and despite a huge physical and mental effort, they couldn’t make it show. A 2-0 defeat put their place in the finals at risk, so they couldn’t slip up now.

What followed the next day will live with the boys for a lifetime. Their final group game was against a strong Sparta United outfit, but they secured a 4-1 victory. Results elsewhere, however, meant they were still at risk of dropping out at the group stages.

In true dramatic style, it all came down to penalties for the crucial extra point. Up stepped Lee ‘Stanno’ Stanley to slot the winning penalty away and spark mass celebrations that are still talked about today.

Where were they going? To the final, that’s where. Against Sparta.

Despite being mentally drained from their penalty shoot-out drama, later that day both teams served up a competitive feast that fully deserved its billing.

For the UK lads, it was a 1-0 victory at the final whistle and a chance to emulate their LFC heroes a few months earlier. Led by captain Joel Godfrey, the podium celebrations didn’t disappoint.

So what to do when you’ve just won an international tournament and you’re in one of the most spectacular regions of the United States? Think palm trees, sun and so many fantastic views.

Team celebrations followed at the nearby Teppenyaki restaurant and as this writer can testify, they continued at the hotel and deservedly so. As did the coaching staff – but again, deservedly so.

The next day and with the celebrations still ringing in their ear, the UK contingent returned to Las Vegas. They still had time to visit landmarks, including the famous Vegas sign, Floyd Mayweather’s gym and the New York, New York rollercoaster.

Oh, and shopping. Plenty of shopping.

Then, the day after, a flight back to the UK. The end of a dramatic six days in the United States that the players will remember for a lifetime.

Some things, they say, stay in Vegas. But the tournament? We can’t wait to tell you all about our next trip in February.

Preparations start now.


James Shaw