Megan Kuckelman scored four goals Saturday for the Kansas Rush Blues before she had to leave the soccer field and head to a volleyball court.
Like many members of her under-14 recreational team, Kuckelman currently enjoys playing several sports. Kuckelman plays basketball as well as soccer and volleyball. Teammate Katie Kendall also does basketball and dance, and teammate Zoey Schillinger also participates in basketball, cross-country and track.
The Kohl’s US Youth Soccer American Cup caters to teams composed of players like Kuckelman. While many of her fellow eighth graders at Prince of Peace have already made exclusive commitments to volleyball or softball, Kuckelman has kept her options open, and her mother approves.
“That is one thing we want to stay away from, at least for now, because we want to see what they like and what they have the most fun at,” Kerri Kuckelman said Saturday. “Really, that’s mostly what it’s about for us.”
The largest recreational youth soccer tournament in the country, the Kohl’s American Cup began Saturday morning at Stump Park and continues Sunday. It includes 60 teams, and its age divisions range from under-7 to under-18.
The tournament organizers emphasize participation over competition, and indeed, the sidelines were mostly pleasantly quiet for the game in which Megan Kuckelman scored early and often. Family members of players lined up folding chairs a couple of feet from the sideline and huddled under blankets. They chatted and occasionally cheered on the players, who wore long-sleeved shirts and leggings under their jerseys and shorts.
Kuckelman had seen less cordial game atmospheres. She played with a competitive team for a while but eventually decided to return to recreational play.
“I have fun because people aren’t as … they don’t get as competitive, I guess,” Kuckelman said Saturday. “Parents aren’t as mad about stuff, and it’s just more fun.”
Her teammates said they enjoy the tournament because it features a bit more aggressive play than league games thanks to the added motivation of possibly winning the tournament championship.
This year, however, not enough teams signed up to allow for a championship game in the under-14 division. The organizers of the event combined the under-13 and under-14 divisions just to give teams two games each in the tournament.
This did not trouble the Blues, though, and coach Bob Kulphongpatana said he appreciated Metro United Soccer Club recreational director Kristie Cleaver going to the work she did to make those games happen.
“I know some of the parents were kind of thinking it was bummer they didn’t get to have that full tournament experience, but the girls, they just want to play,” Kulphongpatana said Saturday after the first game. “We’d rather play two games and not have a final than no games, so I’m glad Kristie didn’t end up just canceling.
“She sent out a nice email to all the coaches saying, ‘I know this isn’t the best situation, but just for you to have the experience, we’re going to have you guys play two games against these teams that are only one year different from you,’ so it was a nice thing for her to do,” Kulphongpatana continued.
The coach appreciates the tournament because it gives recreational teams a unique opportunity to face similarly skilled groups in that format. They can enter competitive tournaments, but sometimes participating in those does not go well.
“You’re probably going to play teams that are twice as good as you, and you end up getting killed, and that’s not such a great experience,” Kulphongpatana said in a phone interview Tuesday. “The Kohl’s Cup is basically, to my knowledge, the only rec tournament in Kansas City in the fall for teams like my daughter’s team to go play in and have true competition at their level.”