owls academy team photo

Union Omaha 2019 academy soccer team. To row, left to right: Gabriel Miranda, Will Devine, Samuel Sundstrom, Sebastian Fierro, Angel Mange, Yussuf Adan, Rufay Enow, Oliver Benson, John Meyers. Middle: Caden Tubaugh, Jaime Ponce, Nolan Fuelberth, Luis Alberto Garcia, Nick Abdallah, Junior Casillas Bottom: Jackson Redd, Yoskar Galvan-Mercado. 

The first victories have been recorded by players flying under the crest of Omaha’s new pro soccer team, Union Omaha Soccer Club.

The success came at the feet of a group of 15- and 16-year-old boys from various Nebraska and Iowa high schools, including Omaha South, Millard West, Papillion-La Vista South and Omaha Skutt. Union Omaha coach Jason Mims put the team together to play in a United Soccer League event in San Antonio.

Sporting the team crest that features a great horned owl, Union Omaha represented the fledgling franchise against Under-17 youth teams connected to other USL teams. They defeated the Tulsa Roughnecks’ academy 3-0 Friday. They beat a squad from the Ventura County (Calif.) Fusion — also 3-0 — Sunday before dropping a 3-2 match Monday to an Oklahoma City Energy team.

“It was really cool,” Mims said. “To see our colors and our crest on soccer players just makes it real, and to have kids from all over the state wearing it from different ethnic groups, different high schools, different socioeconomic backgrounds was really special.

“They were great. They were wonderful. They represented Nebraska well.”

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The Union Omaha pro team will begin its first season in the spring. Werner Park, ballpark of the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers, is undergoing renovations to prepare for soccer.

The Texas event was a regional tournament that’s part of the USL Academy Cup, a new tournament in which affiliate club teams send exceptional high school-aged players to compete.

Union Omaha doesn’t have a developmental academy yet. But Mims assembled a team over the summer — and Union Omaha owner Gary Green and the franchise funded the boys’ trip — as part of an effort to help grow the sport locally.

“That was pretty special from Gary Green and our ownership group to say they were going to support all of this,” Mims said.

Mims, former coach at UNO and a former assistant at Creighton, “strategically and purposely” put together a diverse group of players. He hosted training sessions for a couple of hundred players from around the state at the Omaha Housing Authority/Simple Foundation’s field near the Southside Terrace Homes public housing apartments.

Short on time during the busy fall Nebraska select club schedule, Mims turned to his coaching contacts for potential players.

Three OHA/Simple Foundation boys were among six Omaha South students to make the trip. The roster: Nick Abdallah, Yussuf Adan, Rufay Enow, Edwin Cisneros, Sebastian Fierro and Luis Garcia, Omaha South; Oliver Benson, Bennington; Jose Casillas and Yoskar Galvan-Mercado, Lexington; William Devine, Council Bluffs Lewis Central; Nolan Fuelberth, Lincoln Southwest; John Meyers, Omaha Skutt; Jaime Ponce, Sioux City North; Jackson Redd, Papillion-La Vista South; Sam Sundstrom, Elkhorn South; and Caden Tubaugh, Millard West.

The squad also included two from Faith Lutheran High in Las Vegas — Angel Mange and Gabriel Miranda. Mims had coached one of them during his stint as a coach in Real Salt Lake’s Major League Soccer development academy. He said he reached out to the Las Vegas kids because he wasn’t sure he’d have enough players, especially given that the Texas event conflicted with the beginning of the Nebraska State Cup.

From drills on the field to hotel room assignments, Mims mixed players with different backgrounds to build team chemistry and expand the youths’ horizons.

He thought, “How can I integrate these guys and have them learn something from each other?”

Cisneros, a 15-year-old sophomore, said the trip was amazing, and it was a privilege to be the first players on a pitch in Union Omaha uniforms.

“It was a good atmosphere when we played,” he said. “We didn’t really know each other, but we won the first two games with a team that didn’t even know how each other played.”

He said he learned a lot of soccer from Mims and the other coaches. And he made new friends, beginning with his roommates, who were from Skutt and Papio South and play for different select clubs than his.

“It felt good because you’re representing the city that made you, that made me the person I am,” Cisneros said. “I was representing my people.”