Although the American Youth Football Organization is the oldest of the national youth football organizations, it has traditionally been held in low regard when it comes to producing quality football players.
Well, coach Jake Dopson and his under-13 girls group, AYSO United White, want to change that.
When the US Far East Junior Regional Football Championship kicks off in Boise, Idaho on Monday, this team will be the first AYSO team from New Mexico to compete as state champions. Featuring state champions from 13 western states (California sends a champion from the northern and southern regions) in the U-13 to U-19 age groups, only one other AYSO team, the U Group of 18 boys from Arizona, competes in the tournament.
“Our mission is about talent and branding because AYSO always has a national reputation as an entertainment league with parent coaches,” Dopson said. “But we play in the Duke City league with the same organizational structure and coaching structure as any other club in the city.”
While Dopson is a parent coach with a daughter on the team, he holds a US Football Federation Class D license and is one of the team’s five coaches.
The team is part of the competitive AYSO club program, which is significantly different from the entertainment. Players have to try themselves and are grouped by ability – as in other clubs. Continuity between players and staff is critical, unlike on the entertainment side, where rosters are shuffled every year.
“We have good kids that can be coached and are playing hard,” Dopson said. “And wonderful families who are very supportive of me. Bringing everyone to the same page is not our task.”
The challenge, he said, is to overcome AYSO’s reputation.
“For some reason, AYSO is always perceived as just a development team. But the results help. That’s why it’s so important for us to win the State Cup. When you win the State Cup and do it first, it speaks volumes about your qualities.”
The players didn’t know exactly what was at stake until the middle of the State Cup tournament.
“It was very exciting,” attacking midfielder Jessa Malizzo, 13, said. “We not only played to become state champions, but we played to become the first ever AYSO state champions. This further inspired us to become the first AYSO State Champion.”
It didn’t come easy. United White had to go to an overtime shootout to beat the Rio Rapids Burgundy after two scoreless halves and two scoreless periods in overtime.
“Our whole team was huddled and jumping and screaming,” attacking linebacker Madeline Dopson said of the glee when the shootout victory was decided by Rio’s misguided attempt. “Many players were in tears. We were all so excited and happy that we won.”
United White joins four other women’s teams and six New Mexico junior teams in the draw from Monday to Wednesday.
Those who advance further will go to the playoffs starting on Thursday, with the final taking place on June 26th. The winners will advance to the national championship, which will be held July 19-24 in Orlando, Florida.
The team got a relatively favorable tie against Alaska, Utah and Montana. However, it is also bracketed along with the traditionally powerful Cal North and Cal South programs.
However, to go this far is already a great achievement.
“I am very excited,” said Madeline Dopson. “This is a really great feature that most players don’t have. I’m excited to play with some quality teams and get some competition. It will probably be a bit difficult, but it’s a good tournament and the teams we play against are very strong and good. Overall, I’m excited and a little nervous.”