Highlights from the championship final can be watched on YouTube via Pianeta Sport
It was a real David vs. Goliath year for the AUR men’s soccer team as they beat out much bigger universities to win the Universities of Rome a5 Football Championship on April 26. It was an especially sweet victory for the Wolves -- their first trophy since joining the league 12 years ago.
AUR overcame well-equipped Link Campus in a 5-4 victory. The Wolves had to take down long-time favorite and 2-time league champion, Foro Italico, as well as arch rival John Cabot University. The odds were stacked against AUR, as they entered this 3rd edition of the tournament with a regular season of 3 wins-5 loses and a 4th place finish overall.
“What a night! What a season! What a team!” said Coach Stefano Cristalli. “I've been so overwhelmed that I struggle to find the right words to describe the unbelievable job that this group of guys just did. Player by player, we weren't the strongest team of the league, but sometimes altruism, chemistry, hard work and team spirit can go way further than technical abilities. All these are ingredients that a team must have. To be magic. To be champions. AUR Wolves have got them all.”
The game of ‘a5’ – also known as futsal or five-a-side soccer -- has 5 players per team, including the goalkeeper. It’s usually played indoors on a hard court, similar in size to a basketball court, with a smaller, harder, low-bounce ball. The emphasis is on ball control and passing in small spaces.
The win – coming from AUR’s small community of 500 students – was extraordinary in other ways as well. First, the AUR players were mostly from the United States where soccer is not part of the national pastime culture – as it is in Europe –so they had limited experience with the game. Secondly, most of them were new to the team this semester.
“For all these reasons, we should all be proud for the goal that these guys have reached,” added Cristalli, who has been AUR’s Athletic Coordinator since 2017. “This is a milestone in the sports history of AUR, but I really hope that it will be only the first one of many others coming in the next years, in other sports as well.”
The team was: Captain Tyler Cicchiello, Vice-Captain Boris Aka, Niccolò Tamburello, Gian Marco DeFilippis, Willem Zaeyen, Andrew Granville, Sam Ettore, Patrick Shovlin, Zach Winch, Pierfrancesco Grimaldi, Sean Bellissimo, Aidan Datenè (who sealed the final victory with a hat-trick). Datenè was also the League top scorer, with 30 goals compared to 2nd place Link with 15 and scored all the goals playing only 8 games in the League since joining the team in January.
“It still feels unbelievable, but we put such effort into this task,” said Vice-Captain Boris Aka, who remembers the sting of defeat, coming in second in the league last year. “The beginning of this season wasn't the best. But each game the team was growing and what felt like an impossible job was becoming a reality. We were going for the trophy! We believed in it and made people believe in us as well!”
A packed bus of AUR fans left from the campus on game nights: “Our fans were amazing!” said Aka, a senior from the Ivory Coast, majoring in Fine Arts. “They really had a taste of what we endured while playing against stronger teams.” Teammate Sam Ettore, a study abroad Finance major from New Jersey, said being on the team made him get over his homesickness and helped him meet “an amazing group of individuals.”
“The teammates that I played beside through every practice, game, bad call, injury and with the odds stacked against us from the start will always be my second family abroad,” said Ettore. “I would like to thank Stefano Cristalli for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the Wolves and helping us win the first championship in AUR history. It was an amazing journey and an even better ending.”
Aka added about Coach Cristalli, “I will not stop saying that he is the one that made me see this game of football with a better eye. He was able to give everything that you could possibly expect in a coach because he is somebody that doesn't give up!”
Congratulations came in from alumni all over the world: Former captain from 2006 to 2008, Antonio Illiano, wrote on Facebook, “Congrats to the AUR Wolves! Grande! Forza AUR per sempre! Grinta and Cuore!” (Great! Power to AUR always! Grit and Heart!).
In addition to Men’s and Women’s Soccer, AUR also offers Co-ed Volleyball and Men’s Basketball. All the teams participate in the Universities of Rome Championship. Students also can participate in yoga, a running club, and receive discounts on membership to a local gym.
Cristalli has a Master’s in Sports Science from the Universita’ degli Studi di Roma Foro Italico and coached the male soccer team of his university to a gold medal at the Roman Universities Tournament and a bronze medal at the National Universities Tournament in 2011-2012. He was also a professor on the teaching of team sports. His coaching experience includes: FC Juventus, both for National (2010-2014) and International Camps (presently); Thunder Ball Chill SC Canada (2014-2015) and outdoor seasons (2016-2018); and currently for FIGC at Centro Federale Territoriale di Roma, Ponte di Nona.