The Falcons Football Club, Luke Air Force Base’s varsity soccer team, recently participated in the Defender’s Cup, a joint-service tournament hosted every year in September by Joint Base San Antonio at the Star Soccer Complex.
The Falcons began the tournament ranked 20 out of 22 teams. However, their first game, against Fort Sam Houston, Texas, ended victoriously 3-2. Mauricio Sandoval, an administration clerk for Inspector Instructor Bulk Fuels, Company C, 6th Engineering Support Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group based out of Luke, scored the first and third goals of the game while Rick Jones, 308th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, scored the second.
The Falcons played their second game three hours later against Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. The game ended in a scoreless draw. Luke then lost 2-0 against the defending champion, Patrick AFB, Fla.
The Falcons began day two of the tournament ranked 12th after pulling a total of four points from the round robin stage. Luke defeated Hurlburt Field, Fla., 2-0 in their fourth game. Sandoval again scored the first goal while Richard Canales, 56th Medical Support Squadron diagnostic imaging technologist, scored the game’s second goal.
In the fifth game, the Falcons battled fifth-ranked Dyess AFB, Texas, to a 1-1 tie. Sandoval scored Luke’s only goal. The Falcons played the majority of the game down a player due to a red card. With the teams tied after the end of regulation, the players squared off with penalty kicks. The Falcons’ Canales, Brian Erickson, 607th Air Control Squadron weapons director, and Yawovi Kpogo, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight technician, each scored a goal. Dyess scored one penalty but Luke’s goalie, Alex Balok, 56th Medical Operations Squadron orthopedic surgical technologist, saved one while two of the four penalty kicks sailed over the cross bar lifting the Falcons to a win in the shoot-out. The Falcons advanced to the quarter finals against Kirtland AFB, N.M.
In the sixth game of the tournament, the teams remained scoreless until the last 10 minutes when Kirtland scored two goals. The Falcons finished the tournament ranked eighth overall, a 12-seed jump from the day before.
The tournament is intended to promote healthy competition between bases and services, but it is also a tool used by the Air Force Soccer team to scout potential recruits for the three-week tryout camp that immediately follows the tournament. Players are allowed to submit packages ahead of time, but most are still encouraged to attend the tournament. Rick Jones, 308th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, submitted a package and was accepted for tryouts prior to attending the tournament and is at the camp now. Balok was approached by the Air Force team soccer coach after they watched him tend goal in a couple of games, and the Air Force coach personally invited him to next year’s camp.