Freedom FC finishes third in the nation |

Freedom FC finishes third in the nation

Local arena soccer team was within one goal of a title

The Freedom FC, the Vail Valley's Premier Arena Soccer League team, is the third best arena soccer team in the U.S. and Mexico after its third place finish in the national tournament.
Special to the Daily

Like any great epic, the local arena soccer team’s journey to the national finals started with a simple question: You really want to go?

Freedom FC coach Mike Schneider put the question to his team. Because there was so little time to book airline tickets, they could either road trip 18 hours each way to Cincinnati or stay home.

They answered “Veni, vidi, vici” or a version of it. They went, they played, they conquered; 11 players climbing into two Chevy Suburbans and climbing out 18 hours later to play four games in two days.
Freedom FC is now officially the third best arena soccer team in the U.S. and Mexico, rolling through a 15-team field to the semifinals before falling by one goal to the eventual national champion Cincinnati Swerve, which stacked their roster with major league players.

Four of the Freedom’s top hands could not make the trip. If they had been at full strength, they might be the national champions, Schneider said.

“These teams were all good,” Schneider said. “As the head coach it’s a dream come true.”

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Castillo named to national team

Not only that, but after that semifinal match, the Premier Arena Soccer League commissioner strolled over and asked, “Do number 10 (Caesar Castillo) and number 5 (Marco Escobar) want to play for the national team?”

And that’s how Castillo will come to be playing against Brazil next month. Most of the rest of the Freedom was invited to try out for the national team.

So so close

The Freedom opened with a 4-2 loss to Wichita Wings Select. Wichita was 8-0 in its division and was favored to win the whole thing. The Wings had 22 players and substituted every couple minutes — like hockey players, arena soccer players substitute on the fly.

In its second game the Freedom tied hometown favorite Queen City, 4-4, with Castillo scoring a hat trick. Defender Erick “Kong” Briones has the hardest shot on the team and buried one from half field.

Their third game saw a 3-3 tie with Milwaukee’s Brew City Legends. Castillo stored twice and up-and-coming star Ricky Caraveo scored to give the Freedom the lead. A late Milwaukee goal tied the game and they went straight into a shootout — no overtime.

“Diego Gonzalez, our goalie, saved us. He saved three penalties and scored the winning goal,” Schneider said.

Before that game, assistant coach Chano Cruz was warming Gonzalez up, showing him how to save penalty kicks, a skill he would quickly need. Not only that, but Gonzalez drilled the deciding penalty shot to send the Freedom into the semifinals against the Swerve.

While the Freedom lost that semifinal game by one scant goal, Briones buried another shot from half field.

“We represented Colorado and the Vail Valley incredibly well,” Schneider said. “Most of those teams have 20 players and we ran them ragged.”

Freedom’s future is bright

The Freedom brought two younger developmental players, Mahe Denilson and Pancho (Andy) Lopez. Both played for Vail Valley Soccer Club and are some of the players Schneider coached.

Assistant coach Herman Jiminez helped recruit players from around the region, Schneider said, such as defenders Fabian Tapia and Martine “El Muro (The Wall)” Vaquez and Eric Vriones, Efren Gonzalez and newcomer Leo Miereles. At 18 years old, Miereles is one of Colorado’s most sought-after high school players, Schneider said.

Goalkeeper Pablo Rivera suffered a bout of food poisoning, but he rallied to mind the nets in the semifinal.

“He was brilliant,” Schneider said.

Forward Brandon Gallegos was instrumental in creating chances and shots, for Castillo and others, Schneider said.

“It was a great group effort. We are proud of our young team. Everyone now knows Freedom FC. We are on the map and are third in the nation and first in the Rocky Mountain Division. We will continue to grow and built a promising future,” Schneider said.

It takes a village

Sponsorships from Gallegos Corp., Marmot Electric, Valley Stone, Mountain Recreation, Vail ECO, Design Build LLC, Uvaldo Trujillo, Vail Summit Orthopedics, Prosit and Rich’s Auto Body helped make the trip possible, Schneider said.

“It takes a village, the employers, families, sponsors and everyone else,” Schneider said.

Cincinnati is a long way, both ways, and with everyone vying for time on the car stereo for their style of music the miles could sometimes seem long. Still, almost everything about the trip was great.

“I’d do it again next week,” Schneider said.

Not next week, but maybe next year.

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