The FLW United soccer club will represent Fort Leonard Wood for the fifth consecutive year at the Defender’s Cup national military tournament, which will be held this weekend near Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
Open to players from all branches of service, along with a limited number of military veterans and family members, the Fort Leonard Wood team has been practicing and preparing most of the year for the tournament, which is the only military open tournament in the nation.
“It means a lot,” to be able to represent the post on the playing field, according to William Vidal, a team captain for FLW United who is also a staff sergeant with the Veterinary Services office on post.
“The fact that we’re a small community — to get to represent that means a lot,” Vidal said. “We’re all a close group. We all want to play for each other and fight for each other.”
This year has been a challenging one for the team, which has dealt with weather, injuries and deployments over the past few months. But according to coaches Jeff Cornuet and Stephen Standifird, this year’s team has a lot going for it.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity, but I think it’s built a stronger team,” Cornuet said. “I think, talentwise, this is the best team we’ve fielded. The program is developing, it’s building. Each year, we have more players. We lose some, but we add more as people find out that we’re doing this. So, we’ve got our hopes up high for a good showing.”
Standifird said FLW United will play its first game Friday at 5:30 p.m. against the host team, JBSAL. The team will then play two games Saturday morning, the result of which will determine whether FLW United will advance to the Defender’s Cup or play in the lower tier, called the Defender’s Shield division.
“It’s like FIFA: you have the group games, and then the top two from each group go on to the Defender’s Cup on the big tournament side. Everyone else still gets to play, but they play on the (Defender’s Shield) side,” Standifird said
One of the players working to make sure FLW United has a good showing is Taylor Presson. A sergeant with the 14th Military Police Brigade, Presson grew up playing soccer in Marshfield, Missouri, before playing while stationed in Germany and Fort Drum, New York. Getting to play for Fort Leonard Wood has been a privilege, according to Presson.
“It’s a great group of guys,” Presson said. “We just train real hard and try to win for Fort Leonard Wood.”
Fans will be able to follow along with the action on the team’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FLW-United-Soccer-Club-447627202085725/.
“This year, we’re going to try something different,” Cornuet said. “We have (a volunteer) who is going to try to post the games to Facebook Live. We did that with the Cup of Nations earlier this season, and it worked well. So, she’s going to do that periodically through the tournament, and folks who visit the Facebook page can see when we’re going to play. And we’ll update the (page) with scores and how we’re doing.”
Standifird noted that one of the things that has helped the team, which is almost exclusively made up of service members, is the support shown by his players’ units.
“Thanks to the commands for allowing these players to go,” Standifird said. “This is a huge deal for the installation. We often talk about visibility for the installation, and we want more people to see that Fort Leonard Wood is here and we’re competing at these high levels.”
Cornuet also noted that, this year, Fort Leonard Wood players may have a chance to be seen by upper-level Army and Air Force scouts.
“This is an opportunity for these players, because the All-Army coach and the All-Air Force coach are going to be down there recruiting,” he said. “So, it is an opportunity for these players to shine, and maybe have a chance to play for one of the all-services teams.”