If you scan the list of teams participating in the first ever Prospects Cup in Kissimmee, Florida this week, several names will stand out, from Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund to Manchester City and AS Roma.
One team that won’t immediately register is the Medford, New Jersey-based Real Jersey FC, a boutique club that has to date quietly found success feeding players to the Philadelphia Union Academy (goalkeeper Tomas Romero, midfielder Brenden Aaronson and defender JD Wagner to name just a few).
“The fact that we were recognized to participate says a lot,” club president Rusty Aaronson said. “I think it’s awesome for the club. It puts us on the map a bit. People are probably asking ‘Who is this club?’”
The tournament for players born in 2006 and later features 16 total teams, including FC Dallas, LA Galaxy and Orlando City SC from Major League Soccer and Chivas, Club America and Pachuca from Liga MX in Mexico.
The pools for the #ProspectsCup have been selected and the matches have been drawn! Which games are you most excited for? Let us know in the comments!— Prospects Cup (@ProspectsCup) December 8, 2017
Be sure to tune into the inaugural Prospects Cup, taking place in Kissimmee, FL from Dec 18-22. pic.twitter.com/btZ4SQikZQ
The competition kicked off today with a full slate of games. Real Jersey drew Sockers FC from Chicago, Pachuca and FC Dallas in their group. Their Tuesday (Pachuca, 1:30 p.m.) and Wednesday (FC Dallas, 2:45 p.m.) matches will be streamed at www.prospectscup.com/live.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” said head coach Jon Kopytko. “It’s essentially the soccer Little League World Series.”
Koptyko, who also coaches the club’s 2004 team, led the older group of boys to their first national championship tournaments in Indiana and Texas over the summer and recently took the team to North Carolina for the first leg of games in the U.S. Youth Soccer National League.
But this will be a first high profile trip for the U12 group, who will have a healthy dose of support from the nine families that have made the trek.
The boys on the team, which includes one player born in 2007, hail from Medford, Cherry Hill, Voorhees, Berlin, Sicklerville and Fort Dix. In keeping with the club’s philosophy of quality over quantity, they are the lone boys team at their age group.
“I think this justifies what we’ve been doing as a club,” said Aaronson, who coaches the club’s U12 girls team. “Clubs are often judged by the quantity of how many teams you have and what leagues you play in but that isn’t our approach.”
Competition will be fierce in Florida, but the experience alone will be memorable regardless of result. Hershey, Pa. native and Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic, who the Real Jersey FC players got to meet over the summer for a promo video shoot, will be there as the official global ambassador.
“We just want to represent the club in a good fashion and that means being good sports and playing our style of soccer,” Koptyko said. “The pressure is going to be on but I want the boys to enjoy the moment and make the most of it.”