There's plenty to capture the attention of youth soccer players across the country with the World Cup grabbing the international spotlight.
That would normally be enough to quench their thirst for interest in soccer when they aren't busy on the field scoring goals and making saves.
With soccer occupying the sports landscape and continuing to gain popularity at all levels, the American Youth Soccer Organization Region 88 under-12 boys' soccer team from Glendale and La Crescenta is putting the finishing touches on getting set to compete in a prolific tournament that's been a part of the AYSO fabric since 1988 — the AYSO National Games.
Region 88 will take part in the tournament, which will be held mostly in Torrance and Riverside from July 3-6, in the landmark 50th year of the AYSO's existence. An opening ceremony will also take place Tuesday, with Region 88 being recognized at the Stub Hub Center in Carson.
Being a part of the event is something that's been on the mind of Region 88 Coach Scott Nord, assistants Ara Oshagan and Serge Grakasian and a talented cast of 15 players, all of whom were recognized by the Glendale City Council on Tuesday with the team being given a commendation by Mayor Zareh Sinanyan. They will be the first team from the region to participate in the National Games since the under-19 girls' team in 2012 in Tennessee, Region 88 Commissioner Aldo Mascheroni said.
"It's just something that you work hard at and it's going to be a great honor to be able to represent our region and community," said Nord, whose team won the Area 1C section championship and finished runner-up in the Section I title contest in March after previously being selected via a lottery draw invitation to take part in the National Games last fall. "Then you are able to be a part of this tournament in AYSO's 50th year makes it that much more special.
"It's something the players and coaches are going to remember for a very long time."
Twenty-four teams from across the nation will take part in five separate divisions, from under-10 to under-19. The under-12 bracket will compete in matches that will consist of a pair of 25-minute halves. Pool-play matches will be held July 3-5. The semifinals and championship contest will take place July 6.
The Region 88 players slated to compete are Bryan Bayles, Matthew Beeve, Jeremy Blackwood, Dylan Brown, Talon Carvalho, Erick Faeustle, Anthony Grakasian, Yechan Kang, Jae Lee, Daniel Lemus, Matteo Merloni, Ian Nord, Adom Oshagan, Rudy Ruiz and Arian Shapourifar.
Scott Nord said the players have clicked since the start of the season.
"This year has been the most fulfilling year for us as coaches in being able to coach some great players," Nord said. "They respect and care for each other and always back each other up. Those are things you want to see from your players.
"They are unselfish and they pass the ball around to one another. The point is to have everybody involved. They go out there and know what they need to do. Whether we win 6-0, 1-0 or 2-1, we try to make sure the goals come by way of quality plays."
The players are eager to test the tournament's waters.
"It's a big deal to be able to compete in the tournament and we will give it our best shot," said midfielder/forward Ian Nord, 12, who is Scott's son. "I've always wanted to go out there and be able to represent somebody and this will be very exciting."
Brown, 11, said it will be an opportunity for the team to compete in their own version of the World Cup.
"It's going to be cool to be playing against a lot of the best teams in the country," said Brown, a forward/midfielder. "We've played in a lot of tournaments to help us get ready [for the National Games].
"We've worked hard and earned making it this far. We will continue to train hard and prepare for the tournament. It will be a great experience."
Said Mascheroni of the local squad: "It's their enthusiasm and you see them play their hearts out all the time. Then you add the talent they have and it makes for a special team.
"It's going to be an amazing experience for them to be a part of."
Follow Charles Rich on Twitter: @TCNCharlesRich.