By Matt Decker
Four the fourth consecutive year, the FLW United soccer team is representing Fort Leonard Wood in the prestigious Defender’s Cup national military tournament, which begins Friday at the Star Soccer complex near Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
The Fort Leonard Wood team, which was founded in 2015, has steadily improved each year it has participated in the event, finishing 19th out of the 40 participating teams last year. The 2018 version of FLW United is something special, according to coaches Jeff Cornuet and Steve Standifird, who say their squad has more talent, more practice time and more playing time than any previous squad.
“This is the most talented team we have ever entered in the Defender’s Cup tournament,” Cornuet said. “For one thing, we are traveling with a nearly full roster for the first time. That will give us more options throughout the tournament when it comes to substitutions and changing formations and personnel on the field.”
The roster includes 10 returning players, which has benefitted the entire team, Standifird said.
“Having a large number of returning players has been a bonus. The veterans were able to help the new guys learn the style and game plan much faster than if we only had a few,” Standifird said.
Practices began in late November, and the team has strived to hold three practices per week starting in March. FLW United players have also faced other installations in the region and participated in several area tournaments to get ready for the Defender’s Cup, including the annual Cup of Nations in St. Louis in July, where they took second place in their division. In their most recent exhibition match, against the Unsung Heroes on Aug. 4 in St. Louis, FLW United won 13-4.
“That was the pinnacle of everything we have worked for,” Standifird said. “If we can take that mentality and hustle into the Defender’s Cup, there’s no telling how far we can go.”
The added experience on the playing field has proved valuable for several players, like Capt. Nicholas Anderson, who works for the Fort Leonard Wood Veterinary Treatment Facility and joined the team in January.
“It’s given us a chance as a team to assess how well we play as a cohesive unit, and also given us an opportunity to identify our strengths and weaknesses against a variety of other playing styles,” he said.
Staff Sgt. William Vidal, who also works at the Veterinary Treatment Facility, is a returning player who is serving as this year’s FLW United team captain. Vidal said he has seen the additional practices, games and participation in community events pay dividends.
“It’s created team cohesion that is far greater than it was last year,” Vidal said.
The Defender’s Cup will attract soccer teams from installations across the country, all of which must be made up of a majority of active-duty service members.
FLW United is comprised of active duty and reserve Soldiers, Marines and Air Force personnel, along with a limited number of military veterans and family members.
“The team is set up as an installation team, so every eligible player affiliated with Fort Leonard Wood is welcome,” Standifird said. “Eligible is defined by active duty, guard or reserve military, civilian employee, veteran, or family member over 18.”
Both Anderson and Vidal said they are proud to be able to represent the installation at the Defender’s Cup.
“I feel a lot of pride being able to represent Fort Leonard Wood and Veterinary Services,” Vidal said. “Both have been very supportive since my arrival here, and I can’t wait until our team can thank them by giving it our all on the playing field.”
Teams will play a round-robin-style first round on Friday and Saturday, and will then be placed into either an upper or lower bracket depending on their performance.
FLW United is scheduled to play its first match at 7:30 p.m. Friday against a team from Travis Air Force Base, California. That will be followed by a match against a team from Fort Irwin, California, Saturday morning and a match against Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, that afternoon. The level of success in those three games will determine where FLW United advances in tournament play.
Standifird said the team will do its best to keep fans informed of its progress on social media.
“We will post updates on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/flw-united-soccer-club as we are able,” he said.