On July 12, a group of young Yukoners will step on the pitch in Sweden to represent the Yukon at an international soccer tournament. The Strikers, an under-16 men’s squad, will get their first taste of international competition at the Gothia Cup — the World Youth Cup. “The boys are heading to the Western Canadian Games in August and we really wanted them to have an opportunity to compete outside of the Yukon before that,” explains Strikers’ coach, Edgar Musonda. “And Gothia seemed like the perfect opportunity for that — they will get the opportunity to play teams from Europe, Africa, and Asia, all while experiencing a different culture.”

In total, 1,600 teams will compete in the tournament, giving the Yukon squad the opportunity to play against some of the best in the world.

Musonda points out that it’s not just the opportunity to compete on the world stage that will be valuable. “The tournament will provide the boys with an opportunity to greatly expand their soccer social network as well, which will be very valuable as they move on in the sport.”

The team left for Europe on July 7 for a few extra days of acclimatization, some friendly matches, and a chance to explore the tourist highlights of Gothenburg, the host city. “Gothenburg has lots of history to explore,” says Musonda. “Many of the city’s buildings survived World War II and are juxtaposed beside newer architecture.”

Musonda expects the opening ceremonies to be a particular highlight for the young athletes. “There will be 50,000 people in the stadium for the opening ceremony — I expect it to be an electric moment for them.”

The group formed in September of last year and Musonda says that they’ve been coming together well as a team. “Their cohesion and team spirit have really come together over the last few months,” he explains. “It will be really exciting for them to play on this scale,” he says. “Coming from the Yukon where you practice for a large part of the year on smaller inside pitches and then stepping onto an outside pitch where you can play a full 11-a-side will be amazing for them.”

The chance to experience the Gothia Cup is part of a two-year plan to recruit more youth to soccer, Musonda explains. “On this team we have players from Whitehorse, Dawson, and Haines Junction. We were thrilled with the record number of athletes who turned up to try out for the squad — both new players and ones returning after some time away.

“We hope to keep creating more opportunities to develop Yukon soccer players including bringing more teams — of both boys and girls — to future Gothia Cups.”