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Manteca FC trio competes for Valencia CF academy in Sweden’s renowned Gothia Cup
Gothia Cup
Hayden Beier, center, and Audie Garza celebrate their win with Valencia CF Canada teammate Mylan Le Beau (10) on the opening day of group play during the Gothia Cup in July 17. VALENCIA CF CANADA/Courtesy Photo

Hayden Beier felt at home as a guest player for Valencia CF’s Canada-based North America academy.

It helped to be flanked by some familiar faces during the prestigious Gothia Cup, billed as “The World Youth Cup.”

The Ripon High grad reunited with Valencia CF regulars Audie Garza and Cole Ballard, who have been with the residential academy in Montreal,

Gothia Cup
Former Sierra standout Audie Garza scans the penalty box while attacking from the wing for Valencia CF Canada in the Gothia Cup. VALENCIA CF CANADA/Courtesy Photo
 Quebec since December. They’re all products of the Manteca FC Rebels Red high-comp squad coached by James Burns. Garza is a Mantecan who prepped at Sierra High before making the move north in the middle of his senior year. He and Ballard, a 6-1 center back from Anchorage, Alaska, are rejoining Rebels Red for the San Diego Surf Cup this weekend.

Valencia CF Canada was among the 1,878 teams from 69 nations in Gothenburg, Sweden, the host city of Gothia Cup since its inception in 1975. It is known to be the largest youth tournament in the world for boys and girls ages 11-18. The 2023 edition took play July 17-22.

“The experience was really one to remember,” Beier said. “Definitely something I’ll remember the rest of my life, for sure. The opening ceremony was amazing, and the vibes were super good. I enjoyed it a lot.

“The team was great to be around and play with, and the coaches were amazing and fun to be around.”

Gothia Cup
Defender Hayden Beier looks to play the ball forward for Valencia CF. VALENCIA CF CANADA/Courtesy Photo
Valencia CF Canada made it out of its group as the top finisher on goal differential. Garza had plenty of say in that, as he scored twice and assisted two in three games in group play. Valencia was ultimately eliminated in the opener of the knockout rounds by Västra Frölunda IF of Gothenburg, 3-0.

Both Beier and Garza lauded the competition they faced in Gothia Cup.

“It felt like way more competition there,” Garza said. “You can tell by the atmosphere and style of play that they really know the game. It was nice playing against those types of people and experiencing that.”

Himself no slouch as a sturdy center back, Beier noted the considerable size difference between most of his teammates and opposing players. He is no stranger to playing at higher levels, doing so with the San Francisco Glens SC U19 side in the MLS Next during his senior year.

The local tandem had a vital role in Valencia’s first goal of the tournament, and it was the deciding sequence of a 1-0 victory over Swedish club Ale United.

Beier — slotted at right center back in Valencia’s 3-5-2 — got to show off his abilities as a ball-playing defender in the 24th minute when he received short pass along the right touchline. He took one peak and crossed it to the left wing where Garza, who brought it down with a feathery left-footed touch and quickly spotted Michael Rodriguez at the top of the penalty box. Rodriguez put it away with a southpaw strike on the first touch.

“We played the ball back, creating space for each other when I saw Hayden get the ball,” Garza said. “I know how good he is with the long ball, so I just tried to get open on the wing. As soon as I got the ball, I saw a teammate open in space and just tried to get it to him as fast as I could.”

The following day, July 18, Valencia dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker to another Swedish side, Vanersborgs IF, after jumping out to an early 2-0 lead.

Garza then scored twice and assisted another in a 3-1 win against Norway’s Gimse IL in the group-stage finale, securing Valencia’s spot in the playoff ‘A’ bracket.

“Even though we had some new teammates and didn’t have a chance to build chemistry, I thought we played well overall,” Garza said.

While Garza has finished his residency with Valencia, the younger Ballard is returning for another year. Garza is weighing his options for the next step in his career, and Beier is getting ready to play at the junior college ranks with Delta.

Gothia Cup
Valencia CF Canada center back Cole Ballard, middle, gets in position as the corner-kick cross is delivered into the box. The Manteca FC Rebels Red product was joined by former MFC teammates Audie Garza and Hayden Beier at the Gothia Cup in Sweden on July 17-22. VALENCIA CF CANADA/Courtesy Photo

Beier caught the eye of Valencia CF Canada coaches during a camp held in Manteca in April, earning an invite to join the academy team for a handful of training sessions and the chance to compete on the world stage.

Matt Martin of the Soccer Syndicate scouting network helped facilitate the MFC Rebels Red’s pipeline to the Valencia CF academy program. Valencia CF is a first-division club of La Liga in Spain.

Chase Zimmerman of Ripon, another Rebels Red product, is headed for Valencia CF Canada next month.

“We’ve been super fortunate to meet some of the right people and develop some key relationships with people who can open doors like this,” Burns said.

“I’m just super proud of each of them for creating this opportunity for themselves,” he later added. “They trusted in the coaching put in front of them, trusted the systems they played in and at the end of the day they just chased their dream. It’s what led them to this point playing in some of the highest levels in the club game. I’m excited to see what opportunities come from that faith and trust and that dogged determination that they have.”