The Niyakko Rush, a youth soccer club comprised primarily of refugees living in a single apartment house in Aurora, scored free tickets to the Major League Soccer All-Star Game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Wednesday night. And that wasn't even the best part of the week. The true awesomeness came the day before, when MLS ex-superstar Brian McBride put on a surprise clinic with the squad that went on for hours — and ended with photos, autographs and plenty of free gear.
"All the coaches were geeking out because Brian McBride is the guy we all wanted to be when we were their age," says head coach and team founder Jason Hicks. "It was really exciting."
Two years ago, Hicks stumbled upon a group of Burmese, Nepali and Somalian youths kicking around a deflated volleyball in a dirt lot behind the Shadow Tree apartments. How he and other dedicated volunteers helped to secure the group equipment, uniforms, coaching, transportation and games, transforming them into a cohesive team ("Niyakko" is Burmese for "brothers"), was the subject of my 2014 feature "A Sporting Chance." An online crowdfunding campaign has since raised enough cash for the team to purchase its own (well-used but functional) bus.
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A few weeks ago representatives of MLS and McBride, the retired Hall of Fame player who now runs his own soccer academy, reached out to Colorado Youth Soccer officials, in search of a "deserving" team for one of McBride's surprise clinics. Hicks found out Niyakko Rush had been chosen — and that he couldn't tell anybody. "It had to be a surprise," he says. "I couldn't tell the kids a thing."
So on Tuesday Hicks rounded up the squad for an unspecified "event," hauled them to Dick's Sporting Goods Park, and introduced them to Number 20. McBride ran drills, coached players on technique one-on-one, apologized for being "slow" — and ran the ball past everybody. Then he autographed balls, posed for photos, handed out backpacks full of gear and complimentary All-Star game tickets, and made a gracious and unhurried exit.
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The Niyakko Rush scrimmages Saturday mornings from ten until noon at Del Mar Park; more details about the club can be found on their Facebook page. Hicks expects to lose most of his older players to high school leagues soon, but more raw recruits keep appearing from other housing complexes near Shadow Tree. "We're just going to find more kids to love on," he says.