BLAINE, Minn. -- Of the 1,200 youth soccer teams competing in the USA Cup in Blaine, one of them is standing out for their resilience.
The FC Minaj U17 soccer team came all the way to Minnesota from Ukraine and already won at the USA Cup in their division over the weekend.
Now they're continuing their winning streak in the U17 weeklong tournament, winning their first bracket match up
"This is just respect for our soldiers, they're defending us," said Andrii Ketsuk, a center back on the FC Minaj.
Ketsuk says they're motivated to win for everyone back home fighting in the war in Ukraine that started more than 500 days ago in February of 2022.
"Of course we are not forgetting that we have trouble in Ukraine, we are praying for them every day, but this is a great way to focus on your passion and try to enjoy the time without wars," said Ketsuk.
Not only did FC Minaj win the cup over the weekend tournament, but they were also playing in the U19 age division, which is 2 years older than the average age of the team.
"By hard work, you make a victory," said Rudy Balazhinec, the FC Minaj Head Coach.
Balazhinec live streams the games online for everyone back in Ukraine to watch.
"Now we are fighting for them, and we bring them joy," said Balazhinec.
Both coach and players say being in Minnesota has been healing and a good distraction.
"[It's] a happy state. I think this is a friendly state," Ketsuk.
"This is weird and good that we can see the normal life, and we can hope for the better future of our country," said Balazhinec.
The 501c3 non-profit, Family of Christ International, funded the trip for the team and their coaches to come to Minnesota from Ukraine, and then place
They're only able to accomplish this through donations. You can contribute to their fund here.
The next match up for FC Minaj is Wednesday, July 19 at 2 p.m. against Cincinnati United North. The championship match is Saturday, July 22nd. To track tournament results, click here.
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