FC Denver U19 Program – A New Trajectory

By: Eric Ridgeway Fulton

Welcome & Community
These last few weeks have been an important time for us. In addition to our Fall campaigns getting underway with the start of tryouts, we’ve had our first official U19 2018-2019 training sessions. While the U19 squad is still in its formative stages, the program represents an important step forward for our club’s trajectory. We want to welcome the players, leadership, and families to the broader FC Denver family. We also want to express to the rest of our community why this is an important step for us and why it deserves your support. Long before the creation of the U19’s, we’ve been committed to an inclusive and unified club culture, and this desire only deepens now.

First, for those new to our club, we consider our community a soccer family. Our desire is to one day make this a full life (Aged 2 – 65+) Denver soccer community and this is an integral, if early, step in that direction. We are committed to creating a competitive, dynamic, and continually advancing teams within a larger framework of a shared humanistic community. Everything we do, we do together. We wear the same crest and represent the same culture each training and match day.

Program Purpose
With the creation of the U19 program, we are looking to simultaneously fulfill two distinct needs, one for the club, namely creating a club player pipeline and another a perceived need of the market, of creating an additional elite and player-centered professional development pathway.

Prior to the formation of this program, exceptionally talented 17-19-year-old players trying out for our Open teams would routinely get overlooked through a systemic lack of foresight. We held tryouts to fulfill roster needs for that specific season, so young players, often with loads of talent, hunger, and potential, would often get left out as they couldn’t offer as much (in the short term) as their more experienced, and more physically mature, roster competition. While we realized that we were missing out on the possibility of developing and retaining future prospects, this approach was a necessity given we didn’t yet have the infrastructure to create a proper developmental program. With the exceptional program leadership and U19 coaches we’ve brought on-board this year, we now have the infrastructure and experience to create a pipeline for players to experience elite soccer development. We expect to promote players on to college programs and/or other professional-track soccer opportunities, while realizing that some may form a core group of future semi-pro FC Denver teams.

We believe there is an external need for this program as well. This program is taking a fresh approach at fulfilling a unique niche in US Soccer. In a country as big as ours, with the conglomeration of large soccer clubs effectively controlling the youth soccer market, we see an opportunity to create an elite development program that is centered on the needs of the individual player & family. Where the player is more than another player on another team, but a vital member of a community. In any city, there are very few spots available on DA Programs, while there are hundreds of elite and motivated players which are either left out or which have simply chosen a different path. We look to provide an elite development home for these players.

Your Support for U19 Player Assistance Fund
We are committed to doing our part to provide opportunities for players regardless of their, and their families, financial situations. Forming a youth/young men’s team requires an increased financial outlay (paid coaches, multiple weekly Spring practices, etc) than adult teams, even before the realization of providing financial support for those players come into play. That said, the ability to provide deserving players a place to continue to grow their game is of paramount importance to the mission of our U19 program. This is where we’re requesting the support of our community, by donating to help us create a U19 player assistance fund that will be used to allow deserving players, otherwise without the financial means for involvement, to be included in the program (LINK TO DONATION PAGE).

There are two immediate options to help:
– For our current players, all of our Men’s Open (Premier & United) and O30 Teams (Masters & Legends) are participating in this Sunday’s first ever FC Denver Interclub Charity Tournament. We are asking our players to bring a donation (suggested amount: $10, but any amount large or small helps) to help support the on our new U19 players and families. The tournament will take place this Sunday (August 19th) from 4pm-7pm at Northfield High School. Look for additional details.
– For others interested in supporting this mission, you can make a donation on our website (LINK TO DONATION PAGE), which is tax-deductible and will go directly to supporting the U19 player assistance fund.

We are thrilled to be taking this next step forward in building the elite grassroots soccer community that we are all proud to create and support. Thank you!

Our 2018 Open Cup Story: Courage, Belief, & Fight

For two beautiful Spring Rocky Mountain nights, we lived our US Open Cup dream. Everything was how we hoped. The weather was beautiful. The fans showed up. The excitement was palpable. The high-level soccer was on display. We consider it a joy and a privilege to play this beautiful game and support our evolving and beautiful city. In addition, we well realize the amount of volunteer planning, organization, and commitment it takes to be continually successful. It made these Open Cup moments all the more memorable. 13 years in, we reached the pinnacle of elite adult amateur soccer, and we are hungry for more.

When the final whistle blew in our round 2 loss, the emotions were came to the surface. Not only because we gave a USL team all they could handle over 90 minutes and felt like the score could have gone the other way, but because we know what it takes to get to this opportunity and not wanting it to be over. But the next day comes, more practices to schedule, more summer tournaments to plan for, more partnerships to forge, more recruiting and tryouts to arrange, more legitimacy to be earned, and most importantly, more memories to be made.

Before these vivid recollections of our 2018 Open Cup run fade into distant memory, I want to note some of the things I’ll remember from those amazing Wednesday nights in May.

2018 US Open Cup Round 1 – FC Denver vs Azteca FC
Wednesday May 9th, 2018 – Five Star North (Westminster, CO):
– How prepared we were and how we executed. From leadership, to coaches, to players, we looked the part in our first Open Cup match. We knew the opponent was going to be strong (having beaten us in Open Cup qualifying the year prior). And while the score line was close near the end, it was evident who the better team was on the night. It was an amazing performance from our boys and leadership. We put on a show for the 300 fans in attendance.
– The hat trick performance from Cesar Castillo, finishing off the game with a goal in the last second.
– The scary injury to Kyle Heppenstall that brought the ambulance out to the field. Fortunately, Kyle is ok and was back at work within a couple of days and while he hasn’t been cleared to play, he’s already back rock climbing!
– How well our volunteer staff did producing the game. This was our first ever Stadium hosting experience. While that in and of itself, isn’t he biggest feat, doing it for our first ever US Open Cup match, while our president/chief organizer was halfway across the country, and our technical staff was tied up with trying to ensure the players were ready, was a notable challenge. Our staff did their job to rave reviews of many in attendance, allowing the players and fans to focus on the exciting match.
– The celebrations in the locker-room post-match and on the neighborhood bar (Thanks Rob @ Cheers) afterwards. Memorable stuff.

2018 US Open Cup Round 2 – FC Denver vs Colorado Switchbacks FC – Wednesday May 16th, 2018 – Weidner Field (Colorado Spring, CO):
– The bus ride to and from the game (first time we had gotten a full-size bus for team transport).
– Showing up and looking out over the Switchbacks beautiful field with the majesty of Pikes Peak behind it on a gorgeous May Colorado Day.
– The fact that our guys didn’t look phased to be playing a pro team in the slightest. We got after it from the opening whistle and looked the better side over the first 45 minutes (and were rightly up 1-0). The hustle, the fire, the commitment the guys displayed was inspiring.
– Switchbacks made a formation change and came out with much more intensity in the second half. They got two goals in four minutes and we could have collapsed under the expectations, momentum swing, and moment; but we didn’t. That’s my biggest take-away, how courageous we were, and the belief that our coaches and leaders had. Up 1-0 at half, to down 1-2 within minutes…. No problem, we got this. We came back to score two goals (one controversially waived off), and while that scoreline didn’t hold and we lost to a Switchbacks PK in the 85th minute. We continued to fight and had a terrific opportunity to equalize with the very last kick of the match. That’s belief and heart folks!
– And let me tell you, our 60-70 fans that made the trek down to Colorado Springs were vocal (Switchbacks announcer said it was the loudest away fans they’d had in a long time). It was intense hearing our fans stomp on the metal bleachers (reminiscent of the old Mile High Stadium) once they heard the home team fans doing it in the first half. And post-game, seeing our friends and fans gleaming faces meant so much. You could see how much they enjoyed the match experience and how proud they were of their team. It was special.
– And finally, the how upset pretty much the entire group of players and leadership was post-match. Not about the waived off goal call or the ref or anything in particular, just that we expected to win the match. That we knew we were good enough to be here and how long it takes to get back to games that are as significant. In some way, we should be upset (in addition to proud) and we should use that fuel to continue to improve and take the next step when our next opportunity arrives.

Forward FC Denver!