With 7,539 miles travelled, 25 goals in favor, seven goals against, countless of training sessions, blood, sweat and tears, Club Santos Laguna ended Oxnard’s three-year National Presidents Cup Championship drought as they lifted the Boys Under 16 national title in Auburndale, Fla.
The journey to a National Presidents Cup title began with the Cal South State Cup. Once they were able to defeat FC Boyle Heights 3-1 in April at Galway Downs, the real challenge begun, not only for the players, but for head coach Jovan Almanza, his assistant coach Miguel Rivas, as well as all the players’ families.
While team manager and mom Emma Leon coordinated travel and logistics, coach Almanza and coach Rivas worked with the team on the field to get them best prepared for what was coming. Santos Laguna was prepared to the elevation of Salt Lake City, thanks to the multiple hikes they took ahead of the Region IV Presidents Cup. And most importantly, the team was prepared for Florida, after a rough battle, they defeated Missouri’s Lou Fusz 2-0 for the championship title. All the hard work, dedication and commitment paid off with the ultimate prize.
“When they were training, they wouldn’t complain, they knew what was going to go on,” coach Rivas said. “I told them, ‘If you guys want to win it, you’re going to have to train hard and work hard every single day.’ Even when we wouldn’t practice, we practiced twice a week, they were training by themselves as well.”
For Santos Laguna midfielder Ulises Suarez, the road to National Presidents Cup was quite the challenge. The 16-year-old was not only faced challenges on the field, but off of it as well. As the Santos Laguna team realized their journey after winning the Cal South State Cup was a lot longer, their focus turned to making the best out of the opportunity. However, the financial burden would take toll.
Suarez knew that a trip to Salt Lake City would be a financial burden to his parents, but his parents would have another reason to hold him back, his poor grades at school.
“At the time, my grades, when I knew we were going to go, I did my best to pull them up,” he said. “I ended up not failing but got a C-, and they weren’t happy with that, they wanted all A’s.”
With a couple of days left to go to Utah, Suarez was still on the verge of not making the trip. However, with help from his teammates, their families, and endless conversations with his parents, he hopped into a car and headed to Salt Lake City and Florida to become a National Presidents Cup Champion.
“[My parents are] really proud of me,” Suarez said. “They never thought I could make it this far with my teammates, the family here that I have which is my family, they’re really proud of me and the team.
“[The National Presidents Cup Championship] really means a lot. I’ve never been this much independent because I’m I always look at my parents for money, but it means a lot. The word National in it, it’s a dream come true,” he added.
Now, Santos Laguna will look to reach yet another achievement as they look to repeat another championship with Cal South, as well as at a national level. In order to do that, Santos will have to double their work as they must protect and keep up with their National Presidents Cup Championship title among some of the toughest competition in town.
“We came back and there’s so many clubs here, there’s so many quality clubs that play a high level as well,” said assistant coach Rivas. “They say that they want to play us and beat us, so we have to practice even harder to maintain everything and keep our feet on the ground and stay humble.”