MAPLEWOOD, NJ – Each July for the last 42 years, soccer teams from all over the world convene in Sweden for The Gothia Cup, considered by many in the sports world to be the Youth World Cup.
This year, the tournament hosted approximately 1,700 teams (ages 11-17) from 80 nations. The goal of each team is the same – to test their skills against the world’s best for a chance to travel home with The Cup.
When the dust settles, the usual list of winners is what you might expect, with the likes of Brazil, Spain, Germany, France and Portugal all hoisting hardware.
This year, there was one notable exception — a team from New Jersey, with a player from Maplewood.
Tate Sekel and his Match Fit Montclair United B14 team (MFMU) headed off to Sweden with little more than a dream. Despite successes in the EDP (Elite Development Program) league and premier regional tournaments like the Bethesda Cup and EDP Cup, this was the first time the team was to face any international competition, and it was the first time some of the players had even been outside of the United States. En route, they spent several days in Holland where they shook off jet lag, enjoyed some sightseeing, trained and came from behind to tie the Dutch academy team, SC Genemuiden, 2-2, in a physical, yet friendly, scrimmage.
Once in Gothenberg, the opening ceremony set the tone for the week. Staged at Ullevi Stadium in front of 50,000 spectators, the event was broadcast on Swedish television and streamed over the internet for the rest of the world. Modeled after the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games, the event featured live musical acts, 500 dancers, and fireworks, with a team from each country marching into the stadium carrying their nation’s flag. “I wasn’t expecting something so big,” Sekel commented. “The atmosphere was amazing.”
In the group stage of the competition, the Match Fit team was pitted against two teams from Sweden and one from Portugal. They outscored their opponents, 6-2, and were slotted into the Playoff B Championship Bracket for their age group. From that point on, the tournament was single elimination – “win or go home,” as one player called it.
Sekel’s team then went on an impressive six-game winning streak — besting teams from Germany, Brazil, Norway, Sweden and Portugal by a cumulative 14-4 — to reach the finals. For the Maplewood player, the icing on the cake was notching the game winning assist — on his 14th birthday — to send his team to the finals.
The final match against Footgeneration FA Algarve from Portugal was played in front of a large crowd at the Heden Center in the middle of Gothenberg. In true dramatic fashion, regulation time ended in a 1-1 tie with the boys from NJ eventually triumphing in a 5-4 penalty shootout. As music filled the playing grounds, each player had a medal placed around his neck, and took turns lifting the cup to cheers from the crowd.
Tate Sekel is now a freshman at Seton Hall Prep where his soccer team has outscored opponents, 58-9, and remains undefeated. After high school season is over, he will continue with Match Fit’s Premier North and ECNL (Elite Clubs National League) club teams.