Competitive soccer league good fit for 11 year old’s passion

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Landon Kohler, the son of Kirby and Melissa Kohler, of Prairie du Chien, competed in Coulee Region United Soccer Association tournaments all summer. He is pictured (forefront, dark jersey) in action at his position of defensive midfielder. (Photo by Lance Hubbard)

Eleven-year-old Landon Kohler (far left, number 3) has enjoyed playing youth soccer with his teammates in CRUSA and Rush Wisconsin West. For more information about his experiences through their programs, visit crusa-soccer.com or rushwiwest.com. For more details about the Prairie United Soccer Club, contact Julie DeHart, president, at prairieunitedsoccerclub@gmail.com. (Photo by Lance Hubbard)

By Correne Martin

It was cute and chaotic, but as a 4 year old in the Rhinelander Soccer Club’s 6 and under program, Landon Kohler essentially learned to love the game. Back then, like his young teammates, he worked mostly on passing and trying to score, and any chance he got, he was kicking the ball around in his back yard.  

At age 8, Landon moved with his parents, Kirby and Melissa, his older sister Autumn and younger brother Tanner to Prairie du Chien. Locally, in this smaller and more football-focused community, the soccer opportunities weren’t as technical, physical or as strong in numbers. These days, the Prairie United Soccer Club (PUSC) is growing; however, the competitive offerings are still minimal for kids like Landon, now 11, whose primary passion is soccer and whose abilities are undeniable.

“He has the skillset to play mid(fielder) without a doubt,” his dad, Kirby, said. “He dreams about soccer. He wants to do it all the time.”

So in March of 2014, Landon tried out for the Coulee Region United Soccer Association (CRUSA), a premier soccer experience, based in La Crosse, for regional boys and girls ages 4-18. Out of 50 kids, he was chosen to fill one of two open spots on the recreational team. He played all summer with his team of 13.

“It changed my soccer life,” Landon said.

Then, in late-July, he tried out for Rush Wisconsin West, the competitive arm of the association, and again, he stood out from more than 50 trying out to make the 16-member team. Rush is a national club of players with access to high school and collegiate coaches from all over the U.S. who work with the teams.

“I’ve learned about spacing, positioning and communicating,” the reserved young man explained.

“Understanding his role makes his job so much easier,” Kirby added. “When he steps out there, he knows his physical and mental boundaries. It makes the whole experience better. He can now start to specialize and work on his strengths and weaknesses.”

During the summer of 2015, after trying out and making the CRUSA team a second time, Landon and his U11 teammates were invited to the largest youth soccer event in the world, the USA Cup, in Blaine, Minn. There, they took on teams from Brazil, Costa Rica and beyond. They also competed in six tournaments in Madison, Appleton, La Crosse, Apple Valley, Blaine and Waterloo, finishing with a 17-2-4 record.

“It’s definitely a higher level of competition (than that of the PUSC),” Kirby stated. “The kids on the team communicate so they always know where the others are.”

On the CRUSA team, Landon plays defensive midfielder only, but on the Rush squad, he’s been challenged in every zone except goalie. As a defender, Landon is beneficial to his offensive teammates because he’s quickly able to get the ball and create scoring opportunities for them. He has to employ rapid footwork and smart moves.

“Landon is a very good player. He is strong, technically and physically,” pointed out Jonella Rademacher, president of the board of directors for CRUSA. “He is also positive and shares the core Rush values.”

“It’s been really fun to watch him develop as a player,” added Julie DeHart, president of PUSC. “When he made CRUSA, my initial reaction was, ‘Oh, darn, I’m not gonna have him as a player.’ But this is exactly what I wanted to see, [The CRUSA and Rush] opportunities have allowed for him to expand his skills. He’s a very competitive boy with self-drive.”

Next summer, Landon will be part of all the U12 Rush teams across the country (in 30 states) participating in a weeklong camp and competition in Denver, Colo. In addition, as a Rush WI West player, Landon could be placed onto a team of elite players—Wi Fire or Rush Select—which travel the U.S. and internationally to play and get further college and professional development exposure.

PUSC joined CRUSA in 2014. According to Julie, who took over coaching the Prairie du Chien youth soccer program about five years ago with her husband, David, “They offer more practices and big tournaments. If it’s suitable for a family to transport their kids back and forth, it’s a wonderful extra step that’s available.”

Jonella expanded on that notion. “We can develop both rec players in Prairie and higher level players if they commit to year-round training in La Crosse with Rush WI West,” she said. “We are a bridge for this development and for helping PUSC set up a solid foundation. Our goal is to grow soccer across this region and to eventually develop collegiate players or just strong high school programs. Julie’s club is growing and we provide camps, coaches and a structure for her as a support system.”

In addition to Landon, his fifth-grade brother Tanner and classmate Alex Lee are both participating in CRUSA activities this fall. Also, in recent winters, Spencer, Xander and Garrett DeHart have gone to goalie training camp.

“Stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to great things in life. Being willing to join a team where you don’t know anybody takes dedication,” Kirby said. “We are thankful for the opportunities Prairie’s partnership with CRUSA and Rush have provided. I truly believe this has changed Landon’s life.”

“I’ve gotten better at talking to new people,” Landon commented. “I also feel like I’m better at communication, teamwork and I’m more confident in my abilities as an athlete.”

Though Landon is realistic about his future possibilities in soccer—only setting his sights on high school and collegiate soccer, and not beyond, at this point—the partnership among these entities opens the door for him and so many others.

Tetra Brazil soccer coaches have come to Prairie du Chien and taught proper techniques to 6-8 year olds through camps. This has only added excitement for the local soccer program. This past spring, 120 kids ages 6-14 went out for youth soccer and, this fall, there are 50 taking part. Julie said she’s pleased with those numbers and credits her volunteers’ efforts and commitment to the program for its success.

“Our long-term goal is to get at least five to six kids from youth soccer to go on to high school soccer,” she added.

“It’s important that there are opportunities like this out there,” Kirby added, “and they can only help PdC soccer in the future.”

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