US Youth Soccer National League Boys kick off in North Carolina
WILSON, N.C. (Via US Youth Soccer) — The 10th season of US Youth Soccer National League Boys play got underway in North Carolina on Thursday. All of the teams in each of the 15U, 16U, 17U, 18U and 19/20U Boys age groups began their 2016-17 National League season at the Wilson Gillette Soccer Complex and Rocky Mount Sports Complex.
National League teams earn their place in the league based on a proven track record of success in US Youth Soccer regional and national competitions. Competing for a league title and a spot in the US Youth Soccer National Championships, each game will play into who represents the National League this summer in Frisco, Texas.
More than 125 college coaches lined the sidelines on Thursday and many more are expected to attend this National League weekend to scout some of the top teams and players in the country. The competitive level of each game adds to player evaluation, as every team has to earn their place in the league, regardless of location or club affiliation.
“Our game was fought between two really good teams,” 15U Michigan Wolves coach Dennis Darnoi said. “We expect that when we’re at the National League. All the teams are top-of-their-state quality. The level of play puts on display what youth soccer in America is all about.”
The depth of the league was made evident on Thursday, as four of the five defending National Champions absorbed losses to open their season. The lone 2016 National Champion to come away with a win was 17U McLean 00 Green (VA), who managed a 3-0 victory to start the season.
McLean coach Jamil Walker acknowledged the importance of a good start in league play, especially with his team having a target on its back while holding the title of defending champions.
“Our experience from playing in the National League — this is our third year playing in it in a row — we know how difficult it is to get results,” Walker said. “You want to start off on the right foot, so the momentum and attitude is the way you want it to be and you can move to the next game a little more confident.”
Some highlights from Thursday’s matches…
The 2016 Region II Champions, Michigan Wolves 02 (MI), clawed their way back to a 1-1 draw against Penn Fusion Elite (PA-E) on day one of 15U Blue Division play. Penn Fusion had the best early chance when a good low shot was pushed into the post by Andrew Moran. Penn Fusion had another great chance as Tobias Diazfraga was played through on goal but had his shot saved. Michigan Wolves had a chance to take the lead, but Kevin Kapllaj flashed his shot wide. Penn Fusion came back down and had a chipped shot float over the keeper only to hit the crossbar and bounce back to Moran. Penn Fusion broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute when Daniel Kiunzig hit a low shot toward the back post. Michigan Wolves keeper pushed the ball wide but Brandon Cairy slammed home the rebound to make the score 1-0 for Penn Fusion. Michigan Wolves finally found their equalizer as Paul Skoczykas slotted his shot beyond the keeper — forcing the 1-1 draw.
After winning the 2016 Region I Championships, Syracuse Development Academy (NY-W) looked poised to make a good showing in the 15U Red Division. USA MP 02 Premier (SC), semifinalists in the 2016 Region III Championships, had other ideas as it took all three points in the two teams’ opening match with a 3-0 victory. USA Premier controlled the tempo of the game and scored the opening goal when Lance Friedrich hit a left-footed shot across the face of goal to the bottom right corner. USA Premier doubled its lead in the 65th minute as William Finnegan finished a Friedrich corner that couldn’t get cleared out of the box. Kevin Fray added a late goal in the 77th minute to complete USA Premier’s 3-0 victory.
Raiders FC (IL), the 2016 Region II Champions and National Championship semifinalists, fell, 2-1 to 2016 Region III Championships finalists 01 CASL Red North (NC). CASL’s Owen O’Malley started the scoring in the 22nd minute as he beat his defender to the end line and slotted a shot near post beyond the Raiders’ keeper. Raiders FC’s Isaac Carnalla immediately responded as he equalized for his team less than a minute later. Matthew Stewart made sure CASL started 16U Black Division play with three points as he scored the game winner in the 57th minute.
Sporting J. B. Marine – Mann (MO) defeated Bethesda South 01 (VA), 3-2, on the opening day of National League play in the 16U Blue Division. Sporting’s Samuel Benoist scored in just the 3rd minute to put the Missouri side ahead, and Seth Anderson doubled Sporting’s lead just 10 minutes later. Bethesda’s Lucas Tabit cut the lead in half in the 21st minute, as the first half finished with Sporting in front, 2-1. Bethesda kept fighting back, and a chipped ball over the Sporting backline fell to Colin McMunn, who smashed a half volley over the Sporting keeper to level the score. With only a few minutes to go, Sporting earned a free kick deep in the Bethesda half. The free kick deflected high in the box and Sporting’s Padric McGuire attacked the ball with a header to give Sporting the 3-2 win.
TSC Hurricane 00 Elite (OK) and Fullerton Rangers 00 White (CA-S) each picked up a point in the 17U Red Division standings with a 1-1 draw on Thursday. The Cal South side grabbed a 16th-minute lead when Steve Perez found the back of the net. TSC withstood some early second-half pressure from Fullerton and managed to create an equalizer via a Brandon Flores strike. Following the goal, TSC kept the momentum going and nearly earned a game-winner in the 78th minute, but a follow-up attempt was negated as the scorer was called offside. Neither side managed to score in the final minutes of the match, as the game ended even at 1-1.
In the 18U Red Division, 2016 National Championships finalist Dix Hills Hurricanes (NY-E) held on for a 2-1 win against FC Montco Die Mannschaft (PA-E) to open its season. Nicholas Acquafredda put Dix Hills, the defending Red Division champs, on the board first with a 14th-minute strike. Acquafredda then doubled the New York side’s lead with a great effort in the 38th minute. The Dix Hills forward won the ball in his attacking half, lifted his head to see the keeper slightly off his line and used a great piece of skill to chip his shot into the far upper-90 to push his side’s lead to 2-0. In the second half, a series of corner kicks for Montco led to a breakthrough, as Logan Schwartz placed a shot through the keeper’s legs to pull the Pennsylvania side within a goal. However, Dix Hills saw out the final 25 minutes to hold on for the 2-1 win.
In an entertaining end-to-end game, South Carolina United FC 99 Elite (SC) and SC Del Sol 99 (AZ) each earned a point in the 18U White Division with a 1-1 tie. Following a scoreless first half, South Carolina grabbed a 51st-mintue advantage when Kellan O’Hara headed in a free kick. Ethan Cohen responded shortly after for Del Sol with a strike from the top of the box to level the score at 1-1. Both sides exchanged chances in the final half hour of play, with Del Sol creating the best chance for a winner. SCUFC keeper Cameron Smith came up with an athletic diving save to deny an 86th-minute shot, but the Arizona side earned a penalty kick in the ensuing scrum in the box. However, Smith once again guessed correctly and made a diving save on the penalty kick attempt — helping to preserve the draw.
In a matchup of top-two National League teams from a year ago, nothing could separate Solar Chelsea Red 98/99 (TX-N) and Sporting St. Croix (MN) as the two teams played to a 1-1 draw. Daniel Lopez started the scoring in the 19/20U Red Division showdown, as he found the back of the net in the 23rd minute to put Solar in front. It appeared that goal would hold up, but St. Croix generated an equalizer in the 78th minute with a Kenlove Solon strike. The score remained unchanged until the final whistle, as the teams split the points with the 1-1 draw.