Air Force wins gold second year in a row

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Foster
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
The All-Air Force Men's Soccer Team has done it again.

The team triumphed in the 2012 Armed Forces Soccer Championship held at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Sept. 23 through Oct. 1. Air Force team members traveled from all over the world to train, compete and bring home the gold with a 2-1 victory over Army.

Lt. Col. Derrick Weyand, head coach and 66th Security Forces Squadron commander, was grateful for the opportunity to return.

"To be a security forces member day-to-day and know the Air Force gave me time to go and coach, I can't top that," said Weyand. "The fact that my boss trusted me to go and do this speaks volumes for the Air Force and for all the players whose bosses let them go as well."

The only thing better than coming home with gold is finishing the tournament undefeated, and after 23 years of competition, the Air Force team was the first to accomplish it.

"I wanted to go back again and make a point this year, which I think we did," said Master Sgt. Raul Martinez, assistant coach and 66th Force Support Squadron Military Personnel Section superintendent. "It's hard to beat gold, but we did."

The journey began with scouting players from the Defenders Cup at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, from Aug. 30 through Sept. 2. Six players were selected from the all military tournament to join the other hopefuls, and a total of 40 players started the Air Force training camp Sept. 3.

Unfortunately, that many players would not get the chance to stay. Within 72 hours, eight players were cut and they continued to be sent home until the final number reached 18.

After the initial cuts were made, the coaches started focusing on different cross training techniques, such as swimming, so the player's bodies could recover.

"We wanted to make sure our players stayed healthy throughout the tournament," said Martinez. "San Antonio is extremely hot midday so we found alternate activities during that time and most evenings were spent playing base or city teams."

Weyand explained how impressed he was with the local competition in San Antonio and after dominating their first game of the tournament, he realized it was because they had been practicing with such high caliber teams.

"We had great support from the local area," Martinez said. "Nobody wanted to take the time to play us until we beat one of the top teams. Because of that, we had a good reputation and then all the local teams wanted to play us."

Even a local news crew came out and did a live segment with the team while training one early morning.

Training wrapped up Sept. 22 and the team headed to California to defend their title. The coaches felt pretty confident at that point and knew they had a pretty good chance at the gold.

"In four years, I have never seen players this good," said Weyand. "We cut guys that started last year...They just keep getting better and better and the commitment was above and beyond."

The team of Airmen, whose ages ranged from 22 to 35, began by playing their first game against Army. They beat them 2-1 and after a day of rest, beat Marines 2-1. The coaches were interested to see how they would play against Navy since they beat them in the championship match the year before.

The team had nothing to worry about as they easily handled the game with a 5-0 win.

Although the coaches felt positive going into the championship game against Army, they realized any error may send them home with silver.

"One mistake could take us to overtime," said Martinez. "We knew anything could happen, but with the quality of players we had, our chance for gold was pretty good."

Air Force dominated the championship game and after scoring in the tenth minute, they held Army until minute 92. With a score of 1-1, they went into 30 minutes of overtime and Air Force stayed optimistic the title would not leave that day with another service.

The team played as if they had been playing together for years and when one player cramped up, he made sure the coach did not remove him from the game. After stretching, he went back in and immediately scored the game winning goal during the 14th minute of overtime.

Weyand explained that this year's team worked together flawlessly.

"Everyone wanted to win...If they needed to sit on the bench to rest up for the next game they were willing to do that. They were seeing the bigger picture," he said.

The skill and capability to work together as a team paid off when the final whistle blew and they were the champions for a second year in a row.

The bleachers, which were filled with family and friends, erupted in cheers and Martinez's mom, who had dyed her hair blue for the occasion, sounded the horn she blew every time every Air Force scored.

"Everyone wanted to take a group photo after the final whistle and we're all standing in the goal with our gold medals and looking at the faces of the family members," said Martinez. "There were more people actually taking our pictures than were standing in the goal. To see their pride and excitement was the best part for me."

The All-Air Force Men's Soccer Team has won gold more than any other team with 12 gold medals.

"I think everyone felt there's nothing that we couldn't do together," said Weyand. "We're not just brothers on the field, but brothers in arms in the service. Everyone talks about the total force and that's what we were built on."

The final results for 2012 Armed Forces Soccer Championship Tournament: Air Force, first place, gold; Army, second place, silver; Marines, third place; and Navy, fourth place.