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From H-Town to Huskies: How five UConn players with local roots won it all

In 2000, UCONN won the College Cup with five players from Houston on their roster. We caught up with some of those players to get the inside track on the win.

NCAA Soccer: College Cup-Semi Final-Virginia v UMBC Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend Houston is hosting one of the biggest events in college soccer- the College Cup. Friday night four teams faced off in the semifinals and on Sunday the winners, Wake Forest and Stanford, will face each other to determine who will hold the 2016 Championship.

The tournament was started back in the 50’s as an eight team tournament but has since expanded to a 48 team tournament. In the late 90’s UCONN put together a strong team that eventually found their way to a Championship win in 2000. That team was stacked with players who hailed from Houston including Edwin Rivera and Garrett Grinsfelder who Dynamo Theory talked with over the last couple of weeks. In fact the team had five players who had played locally before heading off to college. Sam Forko, Edwin Rivera, Ryan Brown, Chris Gbandi and Garrett Grinsfelder all made the move to Connecticut from Houston.

UCONN made the tournament in 1998, 1999 and won the Championship in 2000. The team went out in the first round in 1998. In 1999, the team went in to the tournament ranked #4 in the nation, but they fell just short of the final losing 2-1 to unranked Santa Clara in the semifinals. In 2000, Connecticut went in as an unranked team and played their way to the final to face Creighton another unranked team.

“...Each of those 3 years, we knew we were the best team and that's all that mattered in our locker room,” said Edwin Rivera about going into the tournament unseeded in 2000. “I believe in '98 we were probably ranked much higher going into the tournament and we ended up losing in the first round to Penn State, I believe. In my mind that was one of our best teams and we blew it. Couple that with the loss in the semi-finals to Santa Clara in '99 - those were 2 bad ways to end the season. All of us took those tough losses and used them as motivation to make sure we ended the next season with a win. “

Ranked or unranked Garrett Grinsfelder said seeding had no baring on their preparation, “Not at all! Again, we had lost the year before in the final four and we were so focused on winning it that we didn't even know what seed they were.”

Finally, the claimed the Championship in 2000 beating Creighton 2-0 to win UCONN’s second National Championship. Chris Gbandi, one of the players from Houston, got UCONN on the score board in the 16th minute of the game. Darin Lewis followed it up with a goal in the 85th minute to secure the Championship win.

“The lessons learned not only in 2000 but all 4 years at UCONN were based on hard work, dedication, accountability, discipline, drive and belief in our team and / ourselves. The goals accomplished are really only bi-products of those things which the coaching staff ingrained in each of us,” said Rivera about winning the Championship. “ However, when winning the championship does come up, whether it's with colleagues or clients, it's always been a really neat thing to discuss. It's certainly a very proud moment in my life and something that's been really cool to share with the Houston boys.”

Playing soccer and winning the Championship didn’t just affect their time in college.

“The discipline to stay on a high level soccer team has molded my character,” said Grinsfelder. “The teamwork required to succeed during good times and bad has also stuck with me. I owe a lot of my current success in the real world to the traits I gained while playing at Connecticut.”