Vail Valley’s Cesar Castillo leads Team USA against Brazil in indoor friendly
Local soccer legend nets a goal, adds an assist in friendly match in South Dakota
Wearing the uniform of a U.S. national team and hearing the national anthem can make it tough to focus on soccer.
But there he was, Vail Valley soccer legend Cesar Castillo, standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of Team USA as the “home of the brave!” drifted away before an indoor match with Brazil.
“Wearing the USA jersey and hearing the national anthem … I have no words for that. It’s a dream. As a soccer player it’s something you dream about as a kid,” Castillo said.
The indoor match was a friendly between Team USA and Brazil called the Corn Palace Cup in Mitchell, South Dakota.
Castillo, you will not be surprised to learn, had a hand … or foot … in both U.S. goals.
But before we can tell you that story, we have to tell you this story.
From bummerhood to Brazil
Castillo and the Vail Valley’s Freedom FC arena soccer team were still pretty bummed about being bounced from the national-title tournament in the semifinals. It was their first trip to the Premier Arena Soccer League nationals, and they were good enough to win.
They didn’t, losing 4-3 in the semifinals to the hometown Cincinnati Swerve, the eventual champion, which stacked its roster with professional Major Arena Soccer League players.
“We could have played in the final and maybe won, but sometimes things don’t work out,” Castillo said.
That perspective and paradigm shifted when Pan American Minifutbol Federation chief Kevin Milliken basically strolled over to Castillo, tapped him on the shoulder and said something like, “We’d like you to play for the national team against Brazil.”
Castillo’s mood improved markedly.
Castillo had scored a half dozen goals in two games, so, yeah, he had the PAMF’s attention. And that is how he came to be standing under a massive U.S. flag, eyes moistening while listening to the national anthem and squaring off against soccer royalty from Brazil.
Team USA’s players had practiced together once before the Corn Palace Cup, and were basically still shaking hands and making introductions as they took the floor. Players were gathered from Chicago, California, Kansas, New York, Washington, and Castillo from Colorado.
“A lot of our guys play in the MASL, a professional arena league,” Castillo said.
Several of Brazil’s players do, too. Their team has been together for years.
“Brazil is on an entirely different level. When you’re playing against a team like Brazil, any chance they get is dangerous. We made three mistakes, and they scored on all three,” Castillo said.
Castillo scored the first U.S. goal, early in the second half.
Brazil was on a counterattack, and Castillo stole the ball from one of its midfielders at the top of the box. He dribbled up toward a couple of defenders and drove it home in the top right corner of the net.
Minutes later he had an assist on the second U.S. goal when he pulled the ball off a Brazilian defender and found an opposite-side midfielder. Castillo hit him with a through ball for a tap-in.
Brazil led the U.S. 4-0 at halftime and rolled to a 6-2 win.
The match was also quite an experience for the Brazilians. Many Brazilian team members caught their first glimpse of snow when they landed in Sioux Falls, head coach João Garcia told the Mitchell Republic newspaper.
He has the skills
Arena soccer is six players per side. The Freedom FC plays in Mountain Rec’s Edwards fieldhouse on something resembling a hockey rink.
The tournament was played in the Corn Palace, a famous basketball arena — no walls —something that suited Castillo’s skills perfectly, Milliken said.
“In the six-per-side format, you need one-on-one skills. You have to be able to take on a guy and beat him,” Milliken said. “We picked Cesar because of his skill set.”
Team USA played a WMF World Cup in 2017 in Tunisia. The team is part of another World Cup in Perth, Australia, in October. Whether Castillo makes the trip Down Under will be determined in August, Milliken said.
“It’s a dream come true for me, too,” Freedom FC coach Mike Schneider said. “As great as he is, and he’s the best soccer player ever to come out of here, it still takes a team and a village. It’s a great thing for the community.”