Loudoun 98 Red boys eye third Virginia State Cup trophy amid national title ambitions
The list of achievements earned by Loudoun Soccer’s 98 Red Under-16 boys team is long enough to stretch across the rolling Northern Virginia countryside their club calls home.
Guided by coach Mark Ryan, the squad won the Virginia State Cup last fall in the U-15 division, won the 2014 Region 1 Premier League and Region 1 tournament — and a flurry of other events — before making an impression at the national level over the summer with a semifinal run at the US Youth Soccer National Championships just across the Potomac River in Germantown, Maryland.
Now Loudoun 98 Red have reached the semifinals of this year’s State Cup, serving as the favorite to take home the crown — and if they can accomplish this, it would be for the third straight year.
Their recent form and growing list of accomplishments now means that Loudoun 98 Red have carved out a place among the top-ranked teams in the United States, per GotSoccer, for their age group.
Ryan insists his team isn’t focusing on this side of the equation, however.
“As players and coaches, we try not to pay too much attention to rankings, as we know they don’t always reflect accurately what is going on,” he said. “We just continue to try to focus on improving as a team and as individuals. Our main goal is to try to get better each season, which so far we have managed to do.”
Ryan has coached the team for three years. He said he couldn’t really point to any specifics as to why the team has done so well, saying that every player has contributed.
“We are lucky in that we have several players who are a goal threat, and that gives us good options going forward,” he said. “Defensively, as group of players, we work very hard without the ball to make it difficult for teams to break us down.”
Ryan believes his team’s chemistry and passion are huge to their success, as the boys work hard for each other, attempting to play quickly while also controlling possession.
“This team works harder in practice than any team I have ever had,” Ryan said. “Any success we have is directly related to that work ethic and the desire each player has to keep improving.”
Loudoun 98 Red will soon be tested again, though, when they face Arlington Attack Red, ranked as the No. 3 team in the nation, for a spot in the State Cup final this weekend. (The other semifinal features the No. 17 team in the country, BRYC 98 Elite, who will face the No. 7 team in the nation, SYC Strikers Blue).
Rankings aside,98 Red have their eyes on the same prize: champions of the Commonwealth. It’s a peak the team has scaled twice already, and the hunt for that euphoric feeling drives this team forward.
“We have done okay so far,” Ryan said his team’s State Cup displays this fall. “Our goal was to be playing at a peak by mid- to late October and we feel we are close to that now. We play an extremely talented opponent in the semifinal game, and all our focus is on trying to be ready for that challenge.”