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Tournaments Jul 22, 2014

Fullerton Rangers 96 looking for third title at U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships

Southern California’s Fullerton Rangers 96 are no strangers to the Youth Soccer National Championships. This same class of young men will be making its fourth consecutive appearance in the finals, having won back-to-back trophies in 2011 and 2012, and only losing in last year’s final to Smithtown Arsenal, a Group A opponent in this year’s tournament.

Such sustained dominance from one class of young players, no matter how talented, is rare. Rangers 96’s opponents will be coming up against a group of players that have not merely played together for years, but who have experienced success at nearly every level along the way.

Head coach Jimmy Obleda recognizes just how remarkable this achievement is and how difficult it’s been to sustain such continued success. “[The biggest challenge] was maintaing the level of focus from everyone,” Obleda told SoccerWire. “We had many kids throughout this last season who were injured. A lot of kids were in national camp and doing extra stuff aside from just the club stuff like traveling to colleges and looking at schools. We didn’t have all our players there.”

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Despite this, Fullerton persevered through National League, finishing second behind FC Golden State on goal differential. According to Obleda, Rangers weren’t even yet at full strength. “We used our league season to rebuild a little bit and work on a few things because we knew that the most important thing for us, and the most important objective, was to qualify for the national championship.”

“That’s why we go there. We go there to win,” Obleda said. “We’re the two-time previous national champion. We feel that we’re as good as, or can play with, any of those teams. Our goal is to win. We have to take one game at a time and not look past anybody and get ahead of ourselves. But our expectation is to train with the intention of winning.”

To do that, Fullerton Rangers will be relying on a core of talented, intelligent, and experienced young players. Chief among these is Amirgy Pineda.

Pineda, a member of the U.S. Youth National pool, became the first American selected as a member of the Nike Academy. Pineda was chosen from a pool of 43 players from around the world at the 2013 Nike Chance Global Showcase in the United Kingdom. However, the 16 year-old forward was told by Nike Academy coaches that he was too small and not physically developed enough to compete with the clubs that the Academy were playing.

[+READ: 2014 U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships Preview: Santa Clara Sporting 95]

He’ll likely be looking to prove his doubters wrong when he takes the field for Fullerton Rangers in U17 Group A action.

Playing behind Pineda in midfield are his cousin, Ronaldo Pineda, and the team’s No. 6, Robert Coronado. Pineda, who has committed to Sacramento State, plays an attacking midfield role role for the club, while Coronado takes care of the defensive duties behind him. Combined, the two players form the backbone of the Fullerton Rangers midfield.

Despite such a strong attacking core, Rangers would have never won back-to-back national championships had it not been for a stout defense. That defense is led by defender Andres Lemus and goalkeeper Keith Murphy. It was Murphy who, in 2012, nearly shut out a rampant Eintracht Frankfurt side in the final of the U15 Dallas Cup en route to a 2-1 Rangers victory.

This positional stability from front to back is one of the main reasons for Rangers’ continued success. “If you have a solid spine from the No. 9 all the way down to the No. 1 your keeper, you’re going to be very successful,” Obleda said. “If you look down our spine, those are the players that have done very well in the last few national championships. We’re hoping for them to do very well [again.]”

While Rangers will be drawing from its deep talent pool and ample championship experience as its U17 class looks to once again march to the final, Obleda remains grateful for once again even having the opportunity to get there. “We’ve qualified for the last four national championships and have won two of the last three,” he said. “Many teams and players don’t really understand how important, how significant it is to go to one, let alone four.”

“We’re there to do the best we can and do the things we have to do and have the luck and everything necessary to win a national championship,” Obleda continued. “That’s what we’re working for and that’s what we’re hoping to accomplish.”

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