When students graduate from high school, a lot of things change. Whether they go to college or decide to do something else, they start to take on many more adult responsibilities and might lose track of the friends they’ve had for years. They can’t take part in the activities they have for years. Although it’s not nearly the most important thing to think about, local U19 teams that have returned to the National Sports Center summer after summer will lose Target USA CUP as well as they age out of the tournament.
For plenty of Minnesota teams Target USA CUP is an annual tradition, a recurring event that has left an indelible impression on players’ childhoods. Kids who participate repeatedly have made many memories at Target USA CUP; it can be like a landmark that tracks their development through adolescence.
Losing touch with childhood friends is a natural part of becoming an adult, and it goes double for some of the players on the Keliix Intra 00 U19 Boys team. Many of them have played together for nine years, forming bonds through tournaments such as Target USA CUP. It’s difficult for them to wrap their brains around the fact that it’s almost over.
“It’ll definitely stick with me because this is the last time I’m going to play with my teammates in this tournament,” outside back Sean Uldrich said. “Looking back it’s done so much for me, helped create new friends and all that. I’m really thankful for it.”
There’s a lot happening for these kids – saying goodbye to friends, moving out, figuring out what you want to do with your life – that the impact of the changes happening in their life can sneak up on them. Just ask wing Sam Goetz.
“It’s been such a huge part of my life for so long and the fact that these are some of the last games I’ll be playing with my team, I don’t know, it’s really starting to hit me right now,” he said.
Joel Thibert has a different perspective. Thibert has coached his daughter Audrey for years through this season with the Minneapolis United, but he also played in the first USA CUP back in 1985 and participated in many of the first few tournaments. He knows what Audrey is about to lose.
“I was still playing in college, but it wasn’t the same,” Thibert, 45, said. “So to see her end her career, I don’t even think she’s as affected as I am. She probably doesn’t even realize, but maybe in a couple of years she’ll realize ‘Oh, that was awesome.’”
Audrey certainly has fond memories of the tournament. She vividly recalls pin trading at Opening Ceremonies and spending all day going from field to field watching games. She said it brought her team closer together.
“There’s nothing else like it,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever have anything else like this.”
All of the players aging out said they enjoyed the internationality of Target USA CUP. Uldrich still has the pins he traded with players from Mexico and Japan in previous tournaments, while teammate Jake Sullivan recalled hosting a team from England as a favorite memory.
Even for those who are not at the end of their soccer career, playing a final Target USA CUP means a lot. Eric Lagos, part of a Prior Lake team that won its second straight U19 championship Saturday, will be playing soccer at Yale next year.
“I got two goals in this game, so that was really special to score in my last game and last club game altogether, too,” he said. “It’s a fun tournament and it’s really fun to win it.”
For Audrey Thibert, it’s fitting that her final USA CUP coincides with a time of upheaval.
“For me, this is a huge thing that I have been a part of for so long, through high school it’s been a constant thing every summer,” she said. “For that to end it really signifies that something is changing, something is happening.”
Ultimately, though, it’s not about the sadness that comes with the end of something great. Not to borrow too much from that quote that Dr. Seuss probably didn’t say, but it’s more about celebrating the happiness that USA CUP brings than it is about grieving the loss of it.
“Obviously it’s pretty sad that it’s ending but I think I can walk away from USA CUP knowing that I’ve met a lot of people through this and made a lot of really great memories,” Sullivan said. “It’s been a great time and I’ll remember it forever.”