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Effingham Magazine

Effingham United Soccer

Effingham United Soccer: Going for the Goal

Story by Katrice Williams

The Effingham United Soccer Organization was founded by Neil and Vikki Beech in 2012 with the mission for “Effingham kids to have an opportunity to play soccer locally” as part of a highly competitive club (travel team).

The Effingham United 2005 boys team (EU ’05), which consists of young athletes born in 2005, plays in the Georgia Premier League, the highest league in Georgia soccer. The team won the U.S. Soccer Association’s President’s Cup in October with a 4-0 record, allowing only one goal throughout the whole tournament. The tremendous victory qualified the team to represent Georgia in the Southern Regional level of the competition in Dallas, Texas this June in order to secure a spot at the soccer nationals.

Sterling Smith has been coaching the EU ’05 team for several of his 25 years as a coach. He has coached many of these boys since they were very young.

“I have some kids there that I consider to be my sons since I’ve been coaching them for so long,” Sterling said.

A Victorious Season

Before winning the President’s Cup, EU ’05 played in various games throughout the season, including several “showcase tournaments”—games that college recruiters attend in order to scout for potential recruits.

“They’re a very competitive group of players. I think there are a lot of medals around their rooms at home,” Sterling joked.

Playing for the President’s Cup

Throughout the President’s Cup tournament, the team played with a high level of strength, skill and determination, which helped lead to their overall victory. With a win of 2-0, the first tournament game allowed the team to face off with a highly skilled Atlanta team.

“The boys played excellently in that game. That put us on top of our bracket. We didn’t allow a goal to be scored on us,” Coach Sterling said.

Later, they went head-to-head with a Columbus team, winning 2-1.

“The boys battled and tied the game before halftime. The second half went back and forth. It was a really good game,” he said.

Those two games qualified the team for the semi-finals, where they battled against Athens United.

“We knew the team and they knew us. We knew it was going to be a battle. That game was a tight game, still at 0-0 at halftime. We scored with about five minutes left in the game, putting us up 1-0, and we held on to complete that victory. That moved us into the finals,” Sterling said.

The finals game was played immediately following that win. After a challenging victory, the team maintained their endurance for the final game, where they faced off with an Atlanta team they had never played before.

“They were probably the fastest team we ever played,” Sterling said. The score was 0-0 with 10 minutes remaining. With mere minutes to spare, Alden Grant scored a magnificent goal, securing the victory for his team. The final score was 1-0.

All in all, EU ’05 scored six goals throughout the President’s Cup Tournament, giving up only one goal.

Headed to Southern Regionals

At the Southern Regionals, the team, which is part of Region Three, will compete for the nationals against seven other Southern states, all in Region Three, including Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida.

Training for Southern Regionals will begin in May. Currently, much of the team is involved in soccer with their various high school teams. This is many of the players’ final year in the program, as several will graduate.

“They’re just a fun group to be around. I’ve probably had eight or nine of them since they were seven-years-old. It has been great to see them grow up to become young men. When they were 10, 11 or 12, I could get out and compete against them, but now at 16 and 17, they’re a lot better. They’re respectful. They love one another. They enjoy each other. It’s great to see that. It gets me kind of emotional because a lot of them will be moving on to college,” Sterling said.

The team is looking forward to going to Southern Regionals. It will be the biggest athletic stage that many of them have ever competed on. In addition, more than 100 recruiters will be there. “It’s going to be a big event. About 95% of my players want to pursue college soccer,” he said.

Beyond the Field

The coach is incredibly proud of the talented group of young men. He has strived to be more than just a coach to them; he looks to be a role model and mentor as well. He wants them to become the most well-rounded individuals possible.

“I love all of them. It’s sometimes tough love, but it lets them know that I care. I pray for the boys, and I pray with the boys before games—not for them to win but to play at the best of their abilities. I’m not out there just for soccer. I’m out there to be a mentor. I want them to enjoy life and know that there’s life after soccer. I want them to be good men—pillars in their communities—whatever it is they decide to do in life,” Sterling said.

Sterling is grateful for the group of parents he has been privileged to work as well. He knows their help, support and commitment has made all the difference.

The team appreciates the support and generosity from their sponsors; they are thankful to those who have helped them achieve their goals. As they head to Dallas for the Southern Regional Competition, they are grateful to anyone who would like to make donations toward the cause. For additional information, please contact Coach Sterling at [email protected].