nd they said disco was dead.
A year ago, coaches Jon and Melanie Sandlin took a group of six local soccer players — the Disco Ninjas — down to ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida, for the Disney 3v3 Soccer World Championships. The team placed ninth in the Gold Division of the under-10 age group.
Earlier this month, that same group — Paycen Desnoyers, Haruki Hoshino, Trent Liggett, Noah Sandlin, Jack Weeter and Aidan Whitley — went back down for more. Playing in the U11 bracket this year, the Disco Ninjas came away with a championship, winning the Silver Division title with a 10-2 victory against a team from New Jersey called the Minions.
According to Jon Sandlin, the two clubs have built up a bit of a friendly rivalry.
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“We beat them the first day, they beat us the second day,” the coach recalled. “Then, when it came down to it for the championship, we came out and really fought hard and won. It was an awesome, awesome game to watch.”
The championship wasn’t exactly what the Disco Ninjas had hoped for — after losing two of three games on Jan. 16, the first day of the tournament, they were slotted into the Silver Division instead of the gold.
But after winning two of three during the Jan. 17 knockout stage, the Disco Ninjas earned a spot in the next day’s semifinals, where they posted a 12-1 win against the Florida Vikings to advance to the championship game and a rubber match with the Minions.
The victory, Whitley explained, was sweet, but not quite as sweet as he had hoped.
“We didn’t get what we wanted even though we won, because we didn’t make it into the Gold division,” he said. “But the whole point of the trip is to get to Monday, and we got there, so I was extremely excited about that.”
For Jon Sandlin, the championship run was just one of several exciting developments for the Disco Ninjas during the past year. The U11 team was joined in Florida this year by a new U9 team, and the group recently added a U11 girls squad as well.
He’s currently looking to expand even more, hoping to find more interested coaches and players for other age groups. As of June, Disco Ninjas SC is officially a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
Sandlin, who also serves as the goalkeeping coach at Columbus East, believes that 3v3 soccer can help players develop skills that translate over to the full-size pitch. He said that the speed of play in a more confined space forces players to become quicker.
“You need to play a lot faster than you need to in the big field,” Noah Sandlin explained. “It’s smaller, so you don’t have a lot of space to work with, so you have to move it around a lot.”
Additionally, defensive skills are at a premium because there aren’t as many teammates to cover you if you get beat.
Jon Sandlin’s long-term goal is to get as many Columbus players involved in small-side soccer as possible to help build skills and grow the city into a soccer hotbed.
For now, though, he and the rest of the Disco Ninjas are still enjoying the spoils of their most recent journey.
For Trent Liggett — who followed up his soccer victory by winning a Super Saturday basketball championship last weekend with Southside Elementary — the best part of the Florida trip was “just hanging out with my friends and just celebrating after we won. It was amazing.”