Soccer’s impact extends well beyond the pitch. It brings communities together. It creates friendships. Through the game and the work that goes into it, players can form important bonds with each other. For young footballers Jaeden Vang, Ethan Xiong, Jacob Thao and Christopher Vang, joining the MNUFC Development Academy has given them a chance to not only compete at a higher level, but become part of something bigger than just the game.
Not that the transition to the Academy was without its own challenges.
“The biggest challenge coming to the Academy was not knowing a ton of the players here after coming from a small club,” said Xiong. “The Academy is more intense, because we play with better players and people that play really intense. At my smaller club, we didn’t play that much in leagues — we’d play in really small tournaments.”
Having some familiar faces around definitely helped. “I knew Ethan and Jacob,” said Jaeden Vang. “It’s been good, and I enjoy making new friends and getting to know everyone.”
“The thing I love most about the Academy is just playing with the team. It’s a privilege to be playing with Minnesota United,” Xiong explained. “You don’t just get in because of what you do. It’s how you work, and how you play.”
Christopher Vang echoes this sense of dedication and recognizes the need to earn his spot every time he sets foot on the pitch. “It’s important to me to come to practice every day and improve a lot,” he said.
The four have had to adapt to the speed of play, learn to transition smoothly during possession changes and find their confidence on the ball. Each has certain areas of the game he’s looking to improve upon during winter training.
“I’ve gotten sharper with my touches, and better with my passes. And thinking quicker,” Jaeden Vang said of the improvement of his skills over the fall season alone. “I want to work on attacking forward more and helping the team.”
Their experience at the Academy has helped grow the bond among these four DA players and with their new teammates. They’ve shared competitive play at a higher level, added new cities to their personal roadmaps and created new friendships with teammates who were once opponents.
“We’ve all played against each other, or with each other for a long time,” Jacob Thao said. “And now we’re in [the Academy] together. It’s good, because now I know more people, and it’s a good opportunity.”
In their first season with the Academy, the players are laying a foundation on which to build not only their games but friendships that could last a lifetime.