Local youth boys soccer team heads to 3-v-3 national championship tournament
Look at any successful soccer team at any level, and there are two things virtually all of them have -- comfort among teammates and, individually, lots of touches on the ball.
A handful of young area soccer players have maximized their development in those two areas in 3-on-3 competition and are now reaping the rewards with success on the field.
On Saturday and Sunday, the Cape Caution soccer team will travel to compete in the 3v3 Live National Championship in Nashville, Tennessee.
The team currently plays in the 2009-birth year age group -- under-7 -- and consists of six players hailing from Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Scott City. That group has earned the top ranking in Missouri and a top-10 spot in the country-wide standings, which earned it a spot in the national field.
"They are excited," Caution coach Justin Graham said. "When we first started, it was just for fun, and once we qualified for the regionals, we had the expectations. The kids keep track of it, and they want to play kids from all over the world. So they're all ... counting the days for months for this to come to fruition here."
The squad's tournament roster will include Colin Erbst, Jace Graham, Kole Gross, Braxtyn Sides, Trenton Powell and Chance Brosey. Joey Charlton, Mark Schultz and Max Schultz also represented the team during its run to the national tournament.
All of the players are currently 7 years old; most are in first grade with a few in second.
Cape Caution formed this year, with Justin Graham teaming up with assistant Jeff Brosey and providing an outlet for their sons, Jace and Chance, to work on their soccer development throughout the year, even when club or recreational leagues may not be in season.
The roster has grown from the bare minimum three bodies in its initial form to the maximum six players who will head to Nashville.
The group found success almost immediately thanks to familiarity -- all of the boys involved play together throughout the entire year, whether it's with their SEMO Elite club team or otherwise. Graham attributes much of the success to the fact the group has played together for nearly two years.
Cape Caution started its 3-v-3 slate in late spring of 2016, playing a couple tournaments a month through the summer.
"Then kids started doing club soccer, and we kind of put it on pause until this tournament here," Graham said. "Once the club season ended a few weeks ago, we kind of dove back into this."
All along, they were positioning themselves for the national tournament.
The qualification process is a marathon, not a sprint, beginning in local tournaments. Teams are awarded points based on their results, and the top three squads at the local level qualify for regional tournaments. The region includes teams from 12 states -- Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Cape Caution played at the Mid-America Regional Championship in St. Louis in early August and took second place, with its only loss in the event coming to a team in the age bracket above it.
That's kind of how the year has gone for the team -- most of the blemishes on its record have come playing up against older boys.
The National Championship invites the top 25 teams from each age bracket, making up a field of hundreds of squads across all age classifications. Cape Caution is currently ranked No. 8 in the country in the 2009 birth-year class.
With this the first year that the team's coaches or players have participated in the 3-v-3 format, the national tournament is a bit of an unknown. But Graham is confident the results the Caution have earned thus far will translate to the next level.
"I think we're going to do well," Graham said. "As long as we put out our best effort and play as a team, I think we've got a really good shot at winning or coming really close. ... I think we're more experienced, and they've gotten better over the summer, even."
Success aside, the whole reason Cape Caution came into being was to enhance the development of the players participating. On that end of things, the endeavor has been frutiful as well, according to Graham.
"It helps to keep them playing," the coach said. "Soccer is something you can get better at every day. You've just got to keep your foot on the ball and get your touches in.
"I think it's the speed of it. The small-sided game, they're getting more touches in. ... It's just kind of a more well-rounded game for them."
The 3-v-3 game is played with three field players -- no goalkeepers -- on a 30- by 20-yard field.
The national tournament will feature a pool-play format; Cape Caution's age group has 10 teams, including a representative from Sikeston, which will play on the opposite side of the pool.
"We've played them a few times. When we first started, they were the only team our age to play, so we had a lot of battles back and forth," Graham said. "Last few times, we pretty much had our way, but they are a good team. I think they're going to do well down there."
The 2009 boys pool also includes one team from Indiana, two from Tennessee, two from Texas, one from Michigan, one from Ohio and one from Washington D.C.
Cape Caution will face each of the teams in its side of the pool -- four games -- on Saturday before advancing into bracket play Sunday, with seeding determined by pool-play results.
Regardless of the results in the National Championship, Cape Caution is already planning for its trip to an open Disney 3-v-3 Soccer Championship in Orlando, Florida, on Jan. 13-16, featuring teams from around the world. Teams that finish top six in their region are eligible to compete.