CARY, North Carolina -- Three days after touching down in the United States from Brazil, Kelvin Nunes scored the game-winning goal in the first edition of The Soccer Tournament to give amateur side Newtown Pride FC a $1 million prize.
Newtown Pride, which is based in Newtown, Connecticut, outlasted a field of 32 and topped Canadian side SLC FC, 2-0, in the championship.
It's unclear how the million dollars will be distributed to the team, but its general manager Matt Svanda said some of the funds will be put back into the club to grow it and some will be donated to the Newtown Pride FC scholarship fund to help with community events.
Despite losing its first game, it was clear early in the tournament that Newtown had implemented a true playing style and system specific for the 7 vs. 7 format and its unique set of rules.
"It was an amazing tournament. It exceeded all my expectations," said Newtown player Gabriel Costa, who scored the team's first goal. "We came here a week earlier than everybody else. So, I thought we were very trained and we were just ready for it. We're happy to take the million dollars home."
Newtown kept a core group of its usual players and added several of the best players from the Major Arena Soccer League. Coach Onua Obasi, a pro indoor player for the Baltimore Blast, calls himself a bit of a tactics nerd and watches more than his fair share of small-sided American soccer.
When he agreed to coach the team, he started reaching out to players from MASL he thought would be good for the format at TST and the recruiting began.
The final, and most important, addition -- Nunes -- didn't arrive until after the first game. But he quickly was able to mesh with the team and was named the tournament MVP.
"He plays for a team in Brazil and we were battling for months to get him here and the visa came in just in time," Costa said. "He missed the first game, which we actually lost and ever since he came, he was a great help and we didn't lose ever since."
Three halves into the tournament, things weren't looking good for Newtown. After losing the first game, 2-1, they were tied with a bad Borussia Dortmund team at half-time and then lost a player to a red card for punching TikTok influencer Noah Beck.
"I remember turning around me, and thinking 'Is this a nightmare right now?'" Obasi said. "We were playing badly and we just got a red card. But now looking back it feels like it was two weeks ago."
But the team bounced back and was dominant through the knockout rounds, beating two teams that featured players with World Cup experience (DMV Diplomats and Blade & Grass) and a team representing Israel club Hapeol Tel Aviv.
Newtown will now return its attention to qualifying for the U.S. Open Cup. It will play in the United States Adult Soccer Region 1 final on June 17, which would send them to the National Amateur Cup Final Four in August. The winner will advance to the Open Cup.
Newtown won the tournament in 2019, but never got the opportunity to play in the Open Cup after it was canceled in 2020.
TST was founded by the TBT Enterprises, which has run The Basketball Tournament for the past decade. The four-day tournament was structured like the World Cup and every game ended on a goal.