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June 11, 2013

Shutout in Ala., U14 winning streak and season ends in pursuit of cup

    Its run ended in complete defeat, but the boys' U14 soccer team from the Meridian Futbol Club used a weekend shutout as a learning experience.

    MFC was representing the state of Mississippi in the South Regional President's Cup, hosted in Decatur, Ala., but lost, 6-0, to both Tennessee and North Carolina on Friday. Sunday's final game didn't play out any better, as they were topped, 7-0, by Arkansas.

    Head coach Eduardo Cruz said the weekend wasn't all bad and that it was a great experience for the team made up of 13- and 14-year-old soccer players.

    "For the boys, it was very good," he said. "It made them put their bar higher. So they know that in Mississippi the level of competition is nothing compared to the nation – not that the teams Mississippi are bad, but compared to other states we need to grow a lot."

    Cruz said the boys were rarely given the chance to shoot at the goal, which made it hard to get on the board.

    He also noted that some weakness came in the age category. Despite it being a U14 tournament, some teams were on the older end, giving them an upper hand on experience and size.

    But the most important thing was that the boys learned how good they could be, Cruz said.

    "I think they didn't realize before the tournament, how good the other teams would be," he said.

"When they faced a team that beat them really bad and wouldn't even let them shoot on their goal, they realized that 'okay we need to do something.’”

    The trip out of state ended MFC's season at 22-4, which by no means is a disappointment.

    "We achieved our goal," team manager Hampton Thomas said of winning the Mississippi state title last month to earn the weekend getaway.

    A win at the South Regional would have put MFC in contention for the national title in July.

    The first loss Friday morning to Tennessee halted a winning streak that dated back to October 2012, despite a staffing change late in the season.

    Cruz, a forward at Belhaven University in Jackson, took over the team at the beginning of May with an easy transition.

    "I didn't change much because they were winning, so I just wanted them to be able to continue what they were doing very well, which was winning," he said.

    He said the losing this tournament was an important mark not just in their soccer careers, but in life.

    "The positive thing is that they will grow up with this," Cruz said. "Those loses will make them more mature about how they want to compete against people, not only in soccer but in life around the world."

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