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Tournaments Jun 05, 2014

Gedion Zelalem’s former U.S. club team Olney Rangers wins another Maryland State Cup

Olney Rangers have once again translated their dominance of the Maryland youth soccer scene as they defeated Baltimore Celtic 2-1 in the final of the Under-18 Maryland State Cup on Saturday, May 31 at the Maryland Soccerplex in Boyds, Maryland.

[ + WATCH: U-18 Rangers win State Cup]

To reach the final, Rangers saw off Pachuca FC, Baltimore Bays Chelsea and MD Independent in the previous three rounds of the competition at the Soccerplex, having begun their campaign in mid-May.

It is the fifth consecutive year that Rangers have won the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association’s premier event in the Under-18 age group, and as the team’s head coach Matthew Pilkington explained, the victory came with a team that only came together this year.

With many Olney players now playing for Bethesda-Olney in the United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA), Pilkington and his fellow coaches formed their roster from players who were left within Olney from their Under-18 Celtic team as well as from around the local area.

[ + READ: WAGS to join with U.S. Club Soccer, add boys divisions]

In a relatively short space of time, Pilkington and the other Olney coaches were able to bring together a group of individuals who had only played together briefly during their time in other age groups and form a team capable of winning the State Cup.

“We have lots of coaches that work with the group, it was just about getting them learning together and training together to kind of get to know each other’s habits and personalities,” Pilkington told “Then to get on a run in any competition, when you get a bit of momentum anything can happen. That’s what they did, we just got on a good run, the spirit was high.”

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Olney were able to take advantage of their good standing within youth soccer to enter their team in a number of high-profile tournaments including the Disney Soccer Showcase and other cup tournaments. This then meant that players were able to get the exposure they needed to be recruited to play college soccer.

“We had players who were interested in committing and playing at the next level, so we got them training hard and we’ve just improved over time,” Pilkington said. “The longer they’ve gone on, the better they’ve got together and as a result we’ve continued to progress.”

Those players will now attend institutions such as James Madison University, UMass-Lowell, St. Joseph’s and other schools in Maryland, thanks in large part to their participation with this Olney Rangers team while also playing for their respective high schools at the same time.

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The Olney club as a whole was in the news earlier this year, when former player Gedion Zelalem made his debut for Arsenal in the FA Cup against Coventry City on January 24. The midfielder, who was born in Berlin, Germany and has represented Germany at the U-17 age group, is eligible for U.S. citizenship through the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 after spending six years living in the D.C. area. It was reported by the Washington Post in May that he is back in the United States and looking to gain a U.S. passport.

Zelalem’s time with the Rangers and his desire to stay involved with the club when his time allows has served as a superb example to his peers at Olney, according to Pilkington.

“I think it helps when players see the product we’re offering and the development we’re working towards and then seeing the end-product,” he said. “A player has committed time and effort to the training, to the club and the ideas and then as a result has gone on.

[ + READ: Doing the Double: Two-time Gatorade POY and University of Maryland commit George Campbell is a rare talent]

“Gedion is a good example as he’s gone on to the highest level. A lot of his peers and his friends, and he’s well known in the area, they see that there is the opportunity to go far and I think it helps. Others will go at some point, we’ve got some national team players in the club and hopefully people will follow in his footsteps.

“He’s back and he comes to the games and sees his buddies and he’ll probably hang out with them during his off-time before he goes back to England to continue his youth development.”

With a large number of players spread across boys and girls teams from the Under-8 to Under-18 age groups in addition to the Bethesda-Olney USSDA team at U-14, U-16 and U-18 levels, Pilkington is hopeful that Olney can continue to produce victories in competitions in future years and maintain their State Cup winning streak given the program on offer.

“I think it’s the coaching staff, the facilities, the club philosophy and the togetherness that the club has,” he said. “It’s got a real family feel to it. It’s not in the most competitive catchment area, but I think people who travel up there get a real sense of belonging.

“There’s a real close-knit coaching community up here, everyone works together, pitches in and helps each other out. As a result, the players feed off that and it’s a real enjoyable place to be. Players find that, parents find that, so do coaches.

“We’re committed to youth development, and as a result players go on to become better and win things at other age groups.”

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