Fayetteville SC Force U18 takes Ralph Downey Memorial Classic title
By Jimmy LaRoue
Fayetteville SC Force U18 was nearly pitch perfect.
The southern North Carolina team not only finished atop the Girls Under-19 Nike bracket of the Ralph Downey Memorial Classic with a 3-0-1 record, it did so without giving up a goal.
“Unity with the players was really, really strong,” said Fayetteville coach Aaron Wood. “Defensive pressure from the girls came from all over the place. It wasn’t defending with three backs. It was 11 players on the field defending. It started up top and just worked its way all the way through the back.”
But despite the heat, or the unfamiliarity with a number of players playing with the team for the first time, they never bunkered in its championship run.
“In a little more than half the games, we were playing a three-back system,” Wood said. “We were just solid.”
Still, the warm conditions did factor into strategy, especially on the hot turf, as Wood leaned heavily, at times, on his goalkeeper, N.C. State commit Carly Gustafson.
“Heat played a factor in one or two of the games just trying to maintain a high line,” Wood said. “We’ve got a really athletic keeper, so we really try to use her as the 11th field player. The girls did a good job with it.”
After a first day in which it won its first two games over Northern Virginia SC Jr. Majestics and Virginia Rush Swoosh U17, Fayetteville SC Force domininated MVAA The Force of Maryland 9-0, getting two-goal efforts from three different players–Jessie Keener, Leanne Davis and Nancy Kirk.
The brace from Jessie Keener was her first-ever club goals.
“She’s only played in a flat-back system with her club and her high school team, so to put her in different roles and to challenge her, it was awesome to be able to see a kid come out and really excel at that,” Wood said.
Davis, one of the guest players, is an Olympic Development Program player hoping to walk-on at N.C. State, while Kirk has played a key key role for Fayetteville.
“She’s been a large factor for us,” Wood said of Kirk. “She’s been a very, very strong player.”
Wood also had praise for one of the team’s younger players, Gina Celeta, who scored in the nine-goal rout.
Fayetteville SC Force finished off the tournament with a scoreless tie with Gunston Elite U18, who finished 2-1-1 in the bracket.
Wood, in getting his team to mesh together, outlined each player’s specific role. Because of that, he said they showed a lot of preparedness and were able to get goals from “all over the field.”
“They’re smart, and if they understand their roles, and understand their jobs, then they’re really able to apply it,” Wood said.
He said the team has grown from the dump-and-chase days.
“We’ve really worked to get away from that,” Wood said. “Every season since then, that’s been a constant theme. We really challenge the players to understand the total game, to have the ability to play in any position, and we get goals from all over the field, and that’s a lot harder to defend against.”
And with 13 goals and a championship over a sultry Memorial Day weekend, the results speak for themselves.