Players throughout the FC Nova youth soccer club often scribble messages on their arms before big games.
Most of the time, the messages contain a motivational message or an acronym to remember. But with devastating news hitting his top U-14 girls team before the Idaho State Cup, Eric Simmonsen knew he needed to take it a step further.
Vic Rodriguez, the father of Nova defender Alexis Rodriguez, died of a sudden heart attack Friday morning, the first day of the state’s top club soccer tournament. With Alexis sitting out, Simmonsen showed up with a pile of Sharpies before Nova’s first game Friday and instructed his players to scrawl “ARod4U” on each of their left arms as a tribute.
“They were all over it,” said Simmonsen, the club’s U-14 coach and director of coaching. “You’ve got people fighting over who’s going to write it and who has the best hand writing.”
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The tribute extended to some of Nova’s older teams at the Idaho State Cup. But it carried its most weight with the U-14 team, which wrote the message on its arms before each game and rolled past the Coeur d’Alene Sting Galaxy 5-1 on Monday at the Simplot Sports Complex for the state title and a spot in the Far West Regionals on June 22-28 at the same site.
Alexis, 14, found out about the gesture Friday in a text from Simmonsen and joined the team Monday to watch their championship game.
“It was really awesome to see that they cared,” Alexis said. “It was really shocking to me.”
Simmonsen called Vic Rodriguez the perfect soccer parent, claiming the only questions he heard from him were, “How is Alexis doing?” and, “What does she need to do?”
Vic Rodriguez always sat away from the rest of the parents, setting up a chair by himself behind Nova’s goal for a better view of his daughter, a center back. At halftime, when the teams switched sides, so would he.
FC Nova placed his empty chair on its end line for all of its U-14 games in the tournament, both for its top club and its reserve team. Players from both teams delivered a flower to the chair before their games Friday.
The news of his death hit the team hard. But dedicating the tournament to him and Alexis and having a constant reminder on their left arm helped FC Nova refocus their energy.
“It’s been hard without her because she’s really good,” teammate Lilly Gwin said. “We miss her. But it’s been great to always look down on our arm and see this game is for her.”
Simmonsen said he can add Alexis back to the roster for regionals if she’s up for it. But like he told his team before Monday’s championship, trophies and tournament don’t mean everything.
“When you’re 35, 34 and have your own kids, you’re not going to have that stuff on your mantle anymore,” he said. “It’s more the mentality. It’s about family and being there for each other and having each other’s backs.
“She’s one of our top center backs, so people have to step up. People have to play. People have to take her spot and play with her attitude and mentality. And they did, which is part of being family. When someone is down, you pick them up and you roll.”
GAME OF THE DAY
Neither the U-16 Boise Nationals Premier or FC Nova girls teams allowed a goal in the tournament before Monday’s final. But goals flowed early and often in the championship match.
Jesse Cole struck first in the opening 10 minutes and added a second-half goal for Boise Nationals, which held on for a 3-2 victory.
“Last year, we made it so close but only made it to the semifinals,” said Cole, who attends Wood River High. “This year, to come back and to win it means so much to all of us. It shows we are better than teams who do play outside of the state. We can still play really, really well playing within our league.”
Four FC Nova players play for the club in the Elite Clubs National League, a top-flight national youth league.
Eagle High’s Emma Bailey, a BYU commit, knotted the game at 1-1 entering halftime. But Mikayla Furrow fired through balls to Cole and Madison Roache to set up two second-half goals.
FC Nova threatened to rally, pulling with one on Aubree Chatterton’s 72nd-minute goal. But Boise Nationals killed the final 8 minutes for the title.
BOISE NATIONALS SWEEP BOYS FINALS
The Boise club swept the weekend’s seven boys championships, winning titles at the U-12, U-13, U-14, U-15, U-16 and U-17 levels and earning Far West Regional berths.
The Nationals’ U-19 squad also qualified as the only team in its state field.
The only level without a Boise Nationals side at regionals is U-18. Idaho Falls’ Ballistic SC upset Boise 2-0 at their state tournament last week.
Boise Nationals also won the U-15 and U-16 girls titles, and a combined team with FC Nova rolled to the U-19 championship.