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A tight bond for Loudoun 98 Red soccer team

Members of Loudoun Soccer’s 98 Red boys team work on a drill during a practice earlier this summer.—Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser
Raw talent, intelligence and athleticism. These traits are often considered the perfect recipe for success in sports. The trait often overlooked is team cohesiveness and friendship: think LeBron James without Dwayne Wade, or Sydney LeRoux sans Alex Morgan.

Enter Loudoun Soccer's 98 Red boys club team, who are the perfect example that it doesn’t just take pure ability to achieve lofty goals.

When head coach Mark Ryan found this talented team six years ago, he saw something special in them. Over time, he wove them together to be more than just some good soccer players.

Ryan, who played collegiate soccer at George Mason, guided Loudoun 98 Red to three appearances at the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships, along with five appearances at Region 1 Championships.

While the four-time Virginia State Cup Champions made a name for themselves as a worthy opponent, it was not through practice alone that made them a standout group.

"Besides our soccer ability, our willingness to work hard for each other and ourselves is really what differentiated us from everyone," said defender Justin Sugatan. "We began to learn that we weren't a group of individuals, we were a group of hard working soccer players that have the ability to beat anyone together."

The group of 19 boys learned that they alone could not guarantee the success of the team, a notable and humbling realization for some 12-year-olds. Wanting to emulate older clubs, the boys put their heads down and as a team conquered each goal they set.

When Loudoun 98 Red qualified for the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships in 2014, the boys made a new goal to return every year that they were eligible, and fulfilled it for three straight years.

While each boy grew as a player, they were simultaneously growing and learning as a person. Though it seems inevitable on a team that has been together for six years, it is often difficult to find a group so interlaced in each other’s lives, creating unique relationships unlike any other in regular life.

"I experienced my entire teenage life with these boys, and our practice environment was one of the most competitive environments I have ever seen," Sugatan said. “We would get into arguments, fights, and the emotions would be set free, but we all knew that it was only to push us to be the best version of ourselves that we could be."

While several players experienced success on their high school teams, helping propel their varsity teams to appearances in regional and state tournaments, the teammates’ affinity for one another bled through the field and into normal life, an aspect treasured by the players and parents alike.

"From the start they all just played well together and were so close, it was really unique," said Jamie Scully, whose son, midfielder Michael Scully, will start playing for the United States Air Force Academy Preparatory School this fall. He will eventually move to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he will join his club teammates Aaron Uribe and Reece Cooke.

Scully is not the only one who is getting to pursue his dreams of a NCAA Division I soccer career. Several of the players start this fall at their respective programs, many going Division I and a few going to Division III schools.

Though college will send them off to all different parts of the country, the boys aim to stay committed to their one-of-a-kind bond.

“We are all supportive of each other and will continue to be for the rest of our lives," Sugatan said. "Personally, I will never play for a team like this group of boys again. The relationships I have made from being on this team are impossible to top."

Loudoun 98 Red players headed to collegiate programs:

-Air Force
Reece Cooke
Michael Scully
Aaron Uribe

Kostandino Nika
Ryan Pyszka

-George Mason
Emin Karic
Ian Mateer

Bhyale Kearns
Benjamin Mackey
Michael Zhang

Giovanni Vasquez

-UNC Asheville
Nabil Milani

-Virginia Commonwealth
Bruk Fekade

-West Virginia
Brendan Hogan

-William and Mary
Sam Golan

-Photos by Rick Wasser


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