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Trip of a lifetime

Published 10:45 am Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Cannon team walks on the pitch with MLS squad

A year of hard work paid off with the trip of a lifetime for a Vicksburg soccer team.

The Cannon U-10 Red Bulls joined in the unique soccer tradition of escorting, hand-in-hand, the professional players onto the pitch before the Major League Soccer game between the Houston Dynamo and New York Red Bulls on July 4.

“The boys were just ecstatic. They thought it was the greatest thing ever,” said Matt Malej, the director of coaching and player development for Cannon Soccer, the competitive arm of the Vicksburg Soccer Organization.

“They got to hold hands with some of these guys who are playing on national teams and just got back from the World Cup,” Malej added. “It was kind of a surreal experience.”

It was also an experience created by lots of hard work. The team did a number of odd jobs and fundraisers over the past year to pay for a charter bus, hotel and tickets to the game. In all, they raised around $7,000.

“We’re very proud of them,” said Emily McClurg, whose son Anden plays on the team. “We have a wonderful group of boys. On the field and off, they work very well together.”

The initial plan was just to take the team to see an MLS game in the closest city, which happened to be Houston. McClurg and another parent, Stephanie Gilliam, decided to take it a step further, however.

They contacted the Dynamo to see about being part of the pregame walk. It didn’t take long for them to be accepted.

“They were a great organization to work with,” McClurg said. “They were wonderful. I emailed them about doing it, and within an hour they called me back.”

Once in Houston, the experience got even better. Another youth team that was supposed to be part of the pregame walkout didn’t show up. So, in addition to the 11 players on the team, a half-dozen siblings who had also made the trip were allowed to join the New York Red Bulls for the ceremony.

“It was amazing,” Malej said. “They saw themselves on the big TV screen in the stadium. The stadium isn’t that big, only about 22,000, so they were really up there huge.”

Even the final score — a 2-2 tie — was exactly what the Cannon players wanted, Malej said. A lot of them are Red Bulls fans, but they were pulling just as hard for the Dynamo by the end.

“They were pushing for a tie,” Malej said. “I think for a small Vicksburg team, having a trip like this and being on national TV is a huge, huge, deal.”