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Before AC Connecticut’s U-13 team began its championship match vs. Sporting Arkansas Premier out at US Club Soccer’s National Cup XVIII Finals, head coach Steve Carneiro had a simple message for his players.
He gathered the group on the sideline in Commerce City, Colo., and asked them to think of the big picture.
“Before the game started, I told the boys to close their eyes and said, ‘All I want you to do is picture what this logo will look like with the first star above it after winning the national title. You guys would be talked about forever, leave your mark in the AC Connecticut history books, make Connecticut proud,” Carneiro said.
That turned into reality for AC Connecticut on Tuesday morning, as they secured a 2-1 win, becoming the only boys team from New England to capture a championship at National Cup. The other four titles for the region went to various NEFC girls teams, with Bruno United (Rhode Island) falling, 2-1, at the U-17 age group to Vestavia Steamers Black (Alabama).
“I can’t be more proud for the club and all the directors involved, all the teams in Connecticut,” Carneiro said. “This national title was something that means a lot to the team, to myself, to the state. We hope the teams from Connecticut feel we represented them. We wanted to make it known that we can compete with these other states. An unbelievable experience.”
Carneiro is also a men’s soccer assistant coach at Western Connecticut State, where they have a saying that proved helpful for AC Connecticut. They trailed several times out at National Cup, before buckling down and emerging with the win.
By the tournament’s end, they went 5-0, had a plus-13 goal differential and scored 20 goals. Noah Braz and Andrew Genovese split time at goalkeeper, while Andres Pelaez led the tournament with 12 goals and Andreas Shaboo was another top goalscorer.
“It seemed like the boys knew how to win,” Carneiro said. “They found a way when we were down 3-0 and came back, then in the final being down 1-0. They never lost their cool and stayed together. At Western we have a saying of holding the rope, and I tried to instill that in the boys. It’s a life lesson.”