Jefferson Cup: SoCal’s Aztecs FC dominates MC ISA Cruzers in Friday U17 action
By Charles Boehm
The Jefferson Cup’s growing national prominence was driven home by Friday’s nightcap, an under-17 match played between southern California side Aztecs FC and MC ISA Cruzers from eastern Long Island, N.Y. in bone-chilling conditions on the artificial turf at Striker Park field #3.
Even experienced tournament observers had expressed eagerness about the arrival of Aztecs FC, a skillful side which has won the California state cup three times. And despite weather-influenced disruptions to their cross-country flight, the squad did not disappoint in their first-ever Jefferson Cup appearance, hammering their New York opponents 5-1 as scouts from St. Louis University and several other colleges looked on.
Dominating possession and pouring forward with wave after wave of slick passing combinations, Aztecs owned a 3-0 lead after barely half an hour of play. Diminutive playmaker Mario Rubio created the game’s first goal with a slaloming run and centering pass, then scored the second on a penalty kick he earned himself en route to a hat-trick performance that left Cruzers gasping for air.
“He’s an amazing player,” said Aztecs coach Hector Diaz of his star #11, who is a high school junior. “He’s a ’93 but he’s young, he’s been playing with us for a while. A lot of colleges have [been watching] him. He’s probably the only player who, since he was a freshman, I’ve got Santa Clara University telling me he’s a special player – if he had the grades, full scholarship right away.”
Beyond their technical aptitude and comfort on the ball, Aztecs possessed a collective cohesion and understanding that has been honed for nearly a decade.
“They’ve been playing since [age] eight, in CalSouth, which is really difficult,” explained Diaz, who elected to take his squad to Jefferson Cup in place of Dallas Cup this year. “They’re a team that’s been playing together since under-nine, and a lot of them have been playing together even younger than that, so that’s why they’re that comfortable.
“A total of five players on this team have been to the national team, so a lot of these players are looking towards that too.”
Cruzers coach Nick Iadanza lamented his side’s shorthandedness for the weekend, but did not hesitate to pay tribute to their opponents.
“These are two top 20 teams in the country playing,” he noted. “Unfortunately we weren’t at full strength, but no excuse: they played their game. They were an excellent team, they broke us down.
“We’re missing tons of players with injuries – hobbled, sick, flu, a central defender out. But they deserved to win and it should’ve been worse, actually.”
Both sides continue the weekend with matches against HYS Herndon FC (Va.) and Georgia’s Cobb FC Chiefs.