Fort Leonard Wood military students from 22 countries around the world and U.S. military personnel and community members faced each other in a friendly game of what some at the venue called “soccer” and others termed “futbol” Saturday afternoon at Tiger Stadium on the Waynesville High School campus.
The eighth annual USA vs. the World Soccer Match concluded with a 4-1 victory for Team USA.
“We do this because we love it, and it’s also a way to welcome our international guests with a game that is loved around the world,” Team USA coach Jeff Cornuet said after receiving the tournament trophy from Amanda Koren, the director of the Fort Leonard Wood International Military Student Office.
Playing two, 45-minute halves, both teams took advantage of a steady wind out of the north that favored attacks on the southern goal.
World team captain Mohammed Al-Saidi scored the first goal of the game in the 37th minute of the first half.
Team USA tied the match early in the second half with a goal scored on a penalty kick by Ronaldo Reyes.
Ten minutes later, Kevin Grauel scored a goal to give Team USA a 2-1 lead.
Michael Reckley scored on a cross pass from Reyes for a 3-1 Team USA advantage with 18 minutes remaining.
“I love soccer, so any where they’re playing soccer, you’re going to find me playing it,” said Reckley a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force Reserve studying engineering at Fort Leonard Wood.
“I have nothing to do after classes, so I figured I would play with the base team here,” he continued. “It’s always fun for me. I just want to say thank you for the opportunity.”
Reyes scored the final goal of the match with about 11 minutes remaining.
“I think our team played well,” said Chris Jensen, USA team captain, after the match. “A few of us hadn’t played together before, so for the first time meeting, it was a good game.”
Both teams practiced for about a month before taking the field.
World team coach Enver Medrano said participating in the annual match is exciting for the international students.
“They all understand it’s for a bigger cause, at the same time with the (camaraderie) in playing with Fort Leonard Wood and representing their home countries. With everything that’s going on in the world, that’s something to look forward to,” Medrano said.
One of the World Team players who was farthest from home was Cuong Dang, a captain in the Vietnamese army, currently in the Engineer Captains Career Course.
“It’s very fun,” Dang said. “It’s the first time for me to play in America and with an American team.”
Players from both teams may continue to play together, Jensen said.
“I actually know a few of the (international) guys. One of the guys is in my EBOLC class, and another guy is on my intramural team,” Jensen said. “It was really cool to see all the different countries come together out here. It was good to meet these guys and interact with everybody. It was also a good opportunity, because I think we’re going to try to keep playing together and keep the relationship going forward.”
U.S. and international students also may get the chance to play another sport in the near future, according to Koren.
“One of the requests (from international students) we’ve had this year is to do an American-based sport — maybe teaching them American football, for example. So, we’re looking at possibly doing that next year,” she said.
Following this year’s match, Medrano and Cornuet traded jerseys, a practice that has become a series tradition. Players also gathered at Waynesville City Park for a post-game barbecue.
Saturday’s match was the eighth consecutive victory for Team USA, which has won every contest in the history of the series.
The match had a last-minute venue change, with teams moving the action to Tiger Stadium from the Waynesville Middle School field.