A beloved soccer coach dies, and his wife learns she has cancer

Sly Sylvester died Friday after a battle with ALS. Now his wife, Tessie, is ready to fight a cancer diagnosis.

John Sylvester's impact on the local soccer community can't be overstated.

Sly, as most people know him, played for the Minnesota Thunder in the late '90s, when they won a championship and dominated the USL. After his playing career, he coached a Minneapolis high school squad, served as coaching director for the Minneapolis United Soccer Club, and worked with youth teams around the area.

And he's beloved.

"He’s the reason I love soccer, he just could connect with us,” Greta Goutz told the Southwest Journal in 2014, when she was a junior at Washburn High School in Minneapolis. "He’s another father figure for me, because he was my coach for six years."

Here he is in 2015 with some of his players – still smiling despite everything he was going through.

He'd been diagnosed years earlier with ALS – a progressive condition with no known cure that causes someone to lose the use of their muscles.

Washburn High School (where Sylvester coached varsity girls soccer) held annual Sylvester Cup events to celebrate what he'd done for so many people, and also raise money to help with medical costs.

Sylvester died Friday, June 14, at the age of 44.

Supporting him in the final years of his life was his wife, Tessie Sylvester. The two met while coaching youth soccer in 2001. She cared for both him and their two sons, Gus and Freddy, balancing those responsibilities while working at a dentistry.

And she recently learned her family's challenges are not over.


Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that forms in glands, usually ones that line internal organs, the National Cancer Institute says. Most breast, pancreas, lung, prostate, and colon cancers fall into this category.

Within hours of her husband dying, the 36-year-old Tessie Sylvester was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma.

"It’s unclear what the primary source of the cancer is, but it has metastasized to Tessie’s liver and lymph nodes," a GoFundMe explains, adding surgery isn't an option.

She won't be able to work while getting treatment, and will be undergoing chemotherapy "to try to keep it at bay and buy her time with her sons," the page explains.

The funding page was set up to help the Sylvester family with expenses.

Tessie Sylvester spoke with WCCO about her own diagnosis, her husband's death, and how she's not giving up.

"Gus and Freddy, John and Tessie’s joy and sunshine, need their mama," the GoFundMe says. "Please help. Donate now. And make it possible for Tessie to get the treatment she needs and to spend as much time as possible with her beloved sons."

Next Up