FAIRBANKS — Braeden Hoppough and his family are spending the Thanksgiving weekend at the Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. They’re not there, though, to ride on the Space Mountain roller coaster.
The Hoppoughs are there to enjoy the unexpected — watching Braeden play for the U.S. Youth Soccer Region IV Boys Olympic Development Program team in the Thanksgiving Inter-Regional Event at the resort’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex today through Monday.
Braeden Hoppough, a 13-year-old eighth grade student at Tanana Middle School, was the only Alaskan selected among the 18 players on the Region IV Younger ’97 roster. The region consists of Alaska and 13 other Western states.
“It means a lot” Braeden said during a telephone interview last week, “especially being from Alaska and not having people expect what you can do because you’re from a small town and a state that limits you on weather and publicity of the sport. It’s pretty big for me.”
The same small town and limited state was where he started the journey to Disney World.
Hoppough first participated in Alaska State ODP tryouts in August 2009 at the Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association Fields. Mini camps followed last November at North Pole Middle School and last January on an indoor turf field at the Curtis Menard Memorial Arena in Wasilla, providing further evaluation of his skills for the state team for players born in 1997.
Hoppough calmly psyched himself for every tryout.
“Whether it was training sessions or an actual game,” he said, “I put myself through a mindset of what I was going to do as a player and how I’m going to play to do good in the game and impress the coaches and everyone else.”
The state coaches were impressed because he was among 16 players named last March to the state ODP ’97 boys squad.
He impressed coaches at a regional ODP camp in June in McMinnville, Ore., with his abilities in drills and performances in friendlies (exhibition games) against players from other states. He was among 220 players in his age group at the regional camp who were vying for 60 spots for the ODP national pool and regional pool.
Hoppough discovered his opportunity for Ontario would occur as a defender.
“He said the other coaches think you will do well in that position, and I told him ‘OK’,” Hoppough recalled.
Hoppough played forward since his career began at age 5. He is from a soccer family, his father, Bryan, is a former Lathrop High School boys head coach and currently coaches the Alaska Rush youth competitive team. His 21-year-old brother, Tommy, is a former Lathrop midfielder and recently completed his sophomore season for Allen Community College in Iola, Kan., and his uncle, James DelCastillo, was a former goalkeeper for Lathrop and Corban College in Salem, Ore.
The switch from playing up front to playing in the defensive backfield wasn’t a big adjustment for Braeden Hoppough. He saw it as a sign that the coaches at the ODP regional camp liked him.
“Being a forward, I know how a forward works,” he said, “and as a defender, you’ve got to think like a forward. You’ve got to ask yourself what would I do as a forward to get around that defender? That’s how I played the position in the regional camp and all the games.”
His play landed him a spot among 30 players for the regional pool and two weeks after the regional camp, he went to Ontario, Calif., two weeks for more evaluation.
“I was just surprised and shocked,” Braeden said. “I know I did good and I gave it my all, but I made it out of a whole bunch of kids who play year around. To know that I beat them to be on the top 60 list is a pretty good feeling.”
His father received an e-mail on Sept. 13 from Region IV stating his son had been invited to participate in the tournament at Disney World against teams from other regions, and play in front of college coaches and members of the U.S. Youth Soccer national coaching staff.
Before he headed to Orlando with his father, brother, mother, Jennifer, and 7-year-old sister, Chloe, Hoppough trained on the indoor field and did cardiovascular workouts in the gymnasium at Eielson Air Force Base.
“I know there are going to be a lot of kids there who are really going to bring it,” Hoppough said of the Inter-Regional Event. “I’ve got to play really well and be really aggressive. This is way bigger than I would expect, and it’s (play) way faster than it is up here in Alaska.”