The U.S. men’s national team might not have qualified for the World Cup this year, but the St. Helena Wolves, a Napa United U10 team, did much more than qualify for the local World Cup Tournament.
The Wolves, who went a perfect 7-0 in the regular season, steamrolled through the championship tournament on Nov. 4-5, and brought home the trophy after a 4-1 victory over Calistoga in the final.
“That was probably our closest game (of the tournament),” said coach Julio Olguin.
St. Helena scored first but Calistoga netted an equalizer late in the first half to make it a 1-1 score at halftime. The 8- and 9-year-old players were battling against heavy legs, playing their third match of the day and their fifth in a two-day span.
At halftime, Olguin and coach Martin Heredia made it clear to the players, and told them they’ve done all they could do in preparation. Now, it came down to willpower and whether they wanted to win the championship or not.
“I think it was good experience for them to be in that position in the final,” the coach said.
The players certainly took the message to heart, and buried three goals in the second half while keeping Calistoga off the scoreboard, clinching the World Cup crown to cap a 12-0 campaign.
The Wolves, who earned the top seed with two wins in the open round Saturday, outscored their World Cup competition 23-5.
They were led on offense by Santiago Olguin, 8, and his 11 goals. “He has great instinct for the ball and is a natural scorer,” said Julio Olguin, “it’s something you can’t teach.”
Santiago’s older brother, midfielder Mateo Olguin, 9, had seven goals for the Wolves. “He has great vision on the field, and has great touch,” Julio Olguin said. “He is also able to score, but his control with the ball and vision on the field makes him hard to stop.”
Noe Heredia, 9, played alongside Mateo in the midfield and made plays all over the field.
The defense was anchored by Claus Russell, 9. “He played well all year, but really stepped up in the tournament making timely stops on defense,” said Julio Olguin.
Hunter Menegon, 9, was also a key part of the defense and midfield. “(His) speed and knack for the ball made it difficult for the opponents to get past the midfield,” Olguin said.
The St. Helena coach said the team’s goalies, Paxton Clark, 8, and John Oliver, 9, were both critical to the team’s success, making key stops throughout.
“Both did an awesome job taking on that role as goalie, which may be the hardest position in soccer,” Olguin said.
The tournament championship was the culmination of a strong season, built on a solid, character-driven foundation. Olguin and Martin Heredia emphasized improvement while valuing the importance of staying humble, winning with class and having good sportsmanship.
“The ultimate goal is to get everyone better, whether you’re a beginner or you’re advanced, the whole thing was everyone should be better at the end of the season,” Olguin said. “Overall, I feel like we accomplished that and the kids were motivated and having fun at the same time.”