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CEDAR RAPIDS — The 14-hour flight pales in comparison to the two years of training that made it possible.
Cedar Rapids Rampage soccer players Taylor Bond, Gordy Gurson and Joshio Sandoval departed Wednesday for the North African country of Tunisia, where the World Minifootball Federation will stage its second World Cup beginning Saturday.
“This whole summer I’ve been looking forward to this,” Gurson said. “It’s been a lot of fun playing with a bunch of different players over the summer in all of these different exhibition games, but it’s nice to finally get the roster down and set.”
The United States National Arena Soccer Team won just four of 12 matches against teams from Brazil, El Salvador and Mexico during a five-month barnstorming tour across the country, which allowed coaches Bernie Lilavois and Mario Scicluna to finalize the 15-member roster.
The tour included an Aug. 26 stop at the U.S. Cellular Center, where Team USA defeated Mexico, 8-5.
“We’re finally getting some results, we’re starting to connect together and it has been a lot of fun,” Gurson said. “It’s been a whole new buildup process.”
Gurson — a 25-year-old forward — is one of two players (along with San Diego Sockers midfielder Matt Clare) that helped the Americans win the inaugural World Cup two years ago. The rest of the roster is largely comprised of current Major Arena Soccer League standouts, including Bond — who signed with Cedar Rapids in May — and Sandoval.
“We’re definitely fit and we defend well together,” Gurson said. “We’re taking a strong group of guys from the MASL.”
The WMF World Cup rules differ slightly from the MASL. There are no boards encircling the turf field, which allows for throw-in opportunities when the ball advances out of bounds.
Instead of four 15-minute quarters, teams play two 25-minute halves.
Team USA opens group play Saturday against Spain, followed by contests against India and Senegal. The top two teams from each of six groups, plus four third-place finishers, will advance to a 16-team, single-elimination bracket.
In addition to the United States and Spain, the strongest contenders include Brazil, Czech Republic, Mexico, Romania and Russia.
“You’ll probably get the best of the best out here,” Sandoval said. “I know everybody always looks to play against great players and great teams. It’s really exciting to actually be part of something like this.”
It will take seven wins in 10 days to claim the cup. The Rampage trio are expected to be back for an Oct. 21 MASL preseason match at St. Louis.
UNITED STATES NATIONAL ARENA SOCCER TEAM
(Player, Position, MASL Team)
Stephen Basso, defender, Harrisburg Heat
Taylor Bond, forward, Cedar Rapids Rampage
Matt Clare, forward, San Diego Sockers
Casey Gasson, goalkeeper, Colorado Blizzard (PASL)
Matt Germain, midfielder, Turlock Express
Gordy Gurson, forward, Cedar Rapids Rampage
Marcus Jordan, forward, Colorado Blizzard (PASL)
Corey Maret, defender, Ontario Fury
Boris Pardo, goalkeeper, San Diego Sockers
Andy Reyes, midfielder, Ontario Fury
Joshio Sandoval, defender, Cedar Rapids Rampage
Israel Sesay, midfielder, Ontario Fury
Joey Tavernese, forward, Syracuse Silver Knights
Franck Tayou, forward, Soles de Sonora
Uzi Tayou, defender, Soles de Sonora
Head Coach — Bernie Lilavois
Assistant Coach — Mario Scicluna
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