From age 4, Nick Shafer and Julian Ramirez have loved playing soccer.

From age 4, Nick Shafer and Julian Ramirez have loved playing soccer.
“On a scale from one to 10,” Shafer said, “it’s a 10.”
The two boys are loving it more than ever, thanks to the Kansas City Wizards Junior U13 (age under 13) team. Shafer just finished seventh grade at Brittany Hill Middle School in Blue Springs and Ramirez just completed eighth grade, also at Brittany Hill. Both will be attending Blue Springs High School.
Shafer and Ramirez joined the Wizards Junior team last June after two days of tryouts, the second serving as a callback. KCW Junior team is part of the Kansas City Wizards Youth Development Program aimed at influencing kids through soccer. The team plays in the highest level of competition for their age group.
This year, the Wizards Junior will field three teams in U14, U16 and U18. Thursday, KCW Junior announced the U16 and U18 teams were chosen to be a part of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, the country’s “premier club competition.” Tryouts for this year take place on June 11-12 for the U16 and U18 teams and June 13-14 for the U14 team at the Wizards’ practice facility in Swope Park.
The team plays in two leagues – the Heartland Heritage Premier League and the Midwest Regional League (MRL) – and played in the State Cup tournament, part of the MRL schedule, this weekend and next in Salina, Kan.
“We’re looking to win the whole thing,” Shafer said.
If the team does win, they will go on to the regional tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The team is coached by Mali, Africa, native Daouda Kante. Kante has played professionally, and has also played with his native country in the World Cup.
“He works really well with the kids,” Jeff Shafer, Nick’s father, said of Kante.
Nick is also a fan of Kante’s.
“He’s always fun to be around, but he can be strict, too,” he said.
Nick, 13, is the goalkeeper for the Wizards Junior, and has posted numerous shutouts this year, which helps when you have a special type of friend.
“He’s actually befriended Kevin Hartman, the goalkeeper for the Wizards,” Jeff said. “He’s befriended him on Facebook and Xbox Live and (Nick) sends him messages and (Kevin) sends him some encouraging words.”
Ramirez, also 13, plays defender for the Wizards Junior. His family moved to the area from California in fifth grade. Ramirez enjoys the opportunity to play at such a high level.
“I like [the team] a lot,” he said. “We’re a good team, we just have to work as a team more and we’ll be more successful. Hopefully we’ll win the State Cup tournament.”
Ramirez is a grade above his teammates, which could influence his fall plans, during which both the Wizards Junior and Blue Springs Wildcats hold their boys soccer seasons.
“I was planning on playing for the high school,” Ramirez said. “But I don’t know for sure. (My teammates) want me to come back and play with them in the fall.”
Ramirez also likes to run track. At Brittany Hill, he was a relay man, running in the 400, 800, and 1,600 meter relays. He plans to do the same at the high school level.
The boys also play futsal, a type of indoor soccer game played on a gym floor with no walls and a ball that “doesn’t bounce very much” at a very, very fast pace, according to Jeff. The boys play with a handful of their Wizards Junior teammates and against the rest of their teammates.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Ramirez said. “It helps increase your speed and skill.”