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Tournaments Mar 13, 2012

Travel drama can’t derail Sereno’s stellar Jefferson Cup

By Charles Boehm

Arizona powerhouse Sereno 94 Boys White had to make one of the longest journeys of any team participating in the Jefferson Cup, departing Phoenix early last Thursday morning for the trip to Richmond, Va. ahead of their tournament opener at 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon.

They never could have expected that kickoff time to become the tight deadline that it did, thanks to an aggravating sequence of travel woes.

“We had some bad weather in Texas, which led us to the Austin airport,” explained team member Boston Kimmel.

Problem was, their actual destination was Dallas, where Sereno’s connecting flight to Richmond was waiting – just not quite waiting long enough.

“We were in Austin for probably an hour and a half,” recalled Yates Hudson, one of several parents who made the trip. “When we got to Dallas, our flight was pulling out as we were pulling in.”

“So we had a little challenge.”

That led to an unscheduled overnight in Dallas and an extremely early departure on Friday morning. Then their arrival in Richmond coincided with President Barack Obama’s, so the presence of Air Force One on the airport tarmac forced their plane to maintain a lengthy holding pattern overhead.

To top it all off, the rental car company – which had pledged to keep their vans in reserve – couldn’t find the vehicles when Sereno finally did touch down, wasting more precious minutes.

“We got here 10 minutes before the game,” said Kimmel, “so that was a rough one, a rough journey.”

So Sereno 94 White had to contend with jet leg, stress and little to no warm-up time for a tough opening match against leading New York side Black Watch Premier Midlothian – not to mention that injuries and other absences left the team with just 13 players to make the trip, including a starting goalkeeper, Tyler Pavlet, who is a member of Sereno 96 White. Pavlet minded nets for the 94 squad in Richmond due to a recent knee injury to normal starter Kyle Jackson, a national-caliber ‘keeper.

But coach David Robertson’s crew made light of all those difficulties, finding their groove midway through the first half en route to the first of what would be three three-goal performances at the Jefferson Cup.

Fluid passing, calm defending and cohesive tactics neutralized Black Watch Midlothian’s energy and physicality, and the slick touches of speedy striker Douglass Jamison – who is being pursued by Creighton and “16 or 17” other top colleges, in his coach’s words – were a constant menace up top as the boys from Arizona rolled to a 3-1 win.

“They’ve been a very successful team. We had issues like this [travel problems] before and they’ve always come out on top. A great bunch of guys,” said Robertson, a veteran coach who was a standout at Scottish Premier League clubs Aberdeen and Glasgow Rangers during his own playing career.

“To be honest, it’s just a pleasure to have these guys, and to overcome the circumstances when traveling 24 hours, it’s a fair feat…You can’t ask for anything more.”

Arizona State Cup champions for three years running, Sereno 94 White are one of the top teams in their region and one of their leading players, Riggs Lennon, missed out on the Jefferson Cup due to a trial stint with Aston Villa of the English Premier League, an offer also extended to his younger brother Brooks. Nonetheless, the squad was the class of the tournament, winning all three matches and turning the heads of rivals, fans and college scouts alike.

Robertson and his fellow Sereno coaches can call on a network of European contacts to help arrange such opportunities, and the club can boast a long list of alumni who have moved on to the professional level, including current MLS players Brandon McDonald, Danny Cruz (both currently with D.C. United) and Blair Gavin of Chivas USA as well as Robbie Findley, a member of the United States’ 2010 World Cup team now with English side Nottingham Forest.

Robertson says that other members of his 94 Boys White team have received offers to play in Europe, but most will play NCAA Division I soccer instead.

“On this team there’s a couple of players that have been offered professional contracts, but they’re obviously going to go the education way,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of contacts within the club so we can send them anywhere. I was involved in professional soccer, playing and coaching for about 20 years and I know a lot of people in Europe, so I’ve been fortunate enough to send players there, they have a look at them.

“Because I know what the level is like and we’re trying to create those type of players at Sereno.”

Somewhat surprisingly, most of Sereno 94 White have yet to finalize their college destinations.

“Most of the boys have got offers, but there’s only about five or six that have actually committed at this moment,” explained Robertson. “We’ve actually got two juniors, one’s going to Virginia [Lennon], the other, Mason Robertson, is going to University of Washington.

“Our first choice goalkeeper [Jackson], he’s going to Columbia along with our first-choice left back. They weren’t here, they’ve been injured. Piece Galan, he’s going to Metro State[College of Denver]. Most of our other boys have got offers, it’s just a case of them making their minds up. I think maybe after this weekend they may have a few more headaches, a few more decisions,” he added with a smile.

The 94 team’s travel nightmare aside, Sereno’s coaches and players were hugely impressed by their Jeff Cup experience and Robertson, who is the club’s Director of Coaching for boys, plans to return in greater numbers in the future.

“It’s been first-class – it’s probably the first time a Sereno team has come to the Jefferson Cup and I think it’s been excellent,” he said.

“It’s something different and we’ll come back. We normally do the same events and wanted to try something different…We’ll certainly bring a lot of teams here.”

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