Playing on the United States Olympic Soccer team is a goal many youth soccer players hope to achieve. And for three local soccer players, someday they may just get their wish.
Justin Riley, Jeffrey Mekus and Tanner Williams play in the U12 Kaw Valley soccer league, and the three participate in the Olympic Development Program.
The ODP is a soccer program designed to select the top talent from a pool of players, in hopes of making a U.S. national team, which are to be announced in June.
But to make the National Team, the players must first make the regional team, which was something Riley succeeded in doing last year. "It's hard to compete with other kids," Riley said. "It was a learning experience."
Last year, like this year, the 11-year-old Riley, and the other kids have had to fit their Olympic Developmental practices in with their regular soccer practices, games and schoolwork.
Having to manage such a busy schedule at such a young age can be difficult. But Kaw Valley soccer coach Mauro Nobre, who also coaches for the Olympic Developmental Program in Kansas, makes an effort to make sure the kids don't get burned out.
"He's funny," Riley said. "He tells us what we need and have fun. It's not boring."
Like Nobre's practices, one thing Riley enjoys most about soccer is its uniqueness to the traditional sports. "It's different than most American sports," Riley said.
"In football, basketball and baseball, there's a lot of stops. But in soccer you just keep playing. I like how the game just flows on."
One thing Riley has had to get into the flow of was having all of his homework done before he left for soccer practice. "We are very proud of him," his mother, Christine, said. "It's neat to see his compliments from other coaches. But as a parent, you want to have school No. 1. You have to teach them balance."
Having to put an emphasis on schoolwork and not just concentrating fully on competing for a spot on a U.S. Regional team may be, in some cases, just the opposite. But it doesn't bother Riley any.
"I take it step-by-step," he said. "I prioritize. School comes before soccer."
Should Riley come up short in achieving his goal of making the regional team this year, he can take solace knowing that he was one of a select few who were chosen to try out for the team.
"It's all good," Riley said. "At the end of the day if you don't make it, the coaches say, 'Hey, at least you were here.'"