US Youth Soccer National League Girls continue play in Orlando, Fla.
ORLANDO, Fla. (Via US Youth Soccer) — The US Youth Soccer National League Girls showcased their talents in front of hundreds of college coaches in meaningful and competitive matches Thursday at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla., alongside the Disney Soccer Showcase. The girls teams competing in Orlando will wrap up their 2014-15 season on Friday, while the rest of the league will compete March 20-22 in Las Vegas before standings are finalized.
The first two National League Girls teams punched their tickets to the 2015 US Youth Soccer National Championships on Thursday, including defending National Champion Under-16 JFC Storm 98/99 (FL).
Jacksonville FC executive director Eric Dade said his team’s primary goal was to earn its way back to Nationals to try and defend its title, which the Under-16 side did by securing at least a top-two finish in its division. After coming up just short of qualifying though the league last season, he said getting it done this year is rewarding.
“We remember the feeling last year in the National League of not being in the top two. We thought we let a good opportunity pass us by. The focus was to make sure we didn’t do that again,” Dade said. “I think the girls committed themselves. Getting good results in North Carolina gave us momentum to come here and see if we can finish it off… Not only do they want to qualify for Nationals, but they want to find a way to win the National League division. I think that’s an accomplishment in itself for them.”
While JFC will need to wait until some games are played in March to see if it can clinch that division title, Under-15 Tophat 18 Gold (GA) has already claimed its division crown after a 4-0 win on Thursday. The Georgia side is the first girls’ team this season to win a National League division. No other group can solidify a winner until the games in Las Vegas, meaning many of the division titles will come down to the final days of play.
Tophat coach Ted Colburn, whose team has gone a perfect 6-0-0 so far, said each game has been tight for a majority of the match, and he believes the quality of the National League competition is “second to none.” Because of the amount of talented teams playing meaningful games in one place, Colburn said his players have a great opportunity to be seen by coaches at the next level.
“I’m just amazed at how many college coaches have been at all of our games. We had 50 brochures to hand out yesterday, and we ran out of brochures,” Colburn said. “That’s what it’s all about because all these kids want to play in college. Winning is nice, but what our club is about is preparing kids to play in college. Having the exposure that the National League gives us is the biggest step in getting them into that next level.”
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 and are among the nation’s best. Competing for a league title and a spot in the US Youth Soccer National Championships, each and every game will play into who represents the National League this summer in Tulsa, Okla.
The National League is an extension of the US Youth Soccer Regional Leagues (US Youth Soccer Region I Champions League, Midwest Regional League, Region III Premier League and Far West Regional League).
Some highlights from Thursday’s matches…
The first girls’ division champion of the season was crowned on Thursday, as Tophat 18 Gold (GA) claimed the Under-15 Blue Division title with a 4-0 win over Grand Rapids Crew Jrs. 00 Gold (MI). The game was tight for the duration of the first half, but Jackson Moehler found the back of the net in the 40th minute to give Tophat a lead at the break. Cameron Hall doubled the Georgia side’s advantage in the 54th minute, and U.S. Under-17 National Team forward Rachel Jones added two goals to help Tophat win the title and punch its ticket to the 2015 National Championships.
Elsewhere in the Blue Division, a late penalty kick helped United FA 00 Premier (GA) win, 3-2, against Cleveland FC (OH-N). The back-and-forth contest saw United’s Kylie Gazza open the scoring in the 33rd minute, but Cleveland’s Janiece Joyner equalized shortly after to tie the game at 1-1. Gazza found the back of the net for a second time in the 52nd minute only to see Cleveland bounce back once again when Vanessa DiNardo beat the keeper. After Cleveland was called for a hand ball in the box, Reagan Smith converted the ensuing penalty kick for what proved to be the game-winning goal in United FA’s 3-2 victory. Both United FA and Cleveland, along with Crew Jrs., have a shot at finishing in second place in the group depending on results on Friday and in Las Vegas.
In the Red Division, JFC Storm 99/00 (FL) fell 2-1 to FC Virginia United Premier (VA). The Florida side has the most points in the standings off any team in the group that is playing in Orlando. However, the loss on Thursday narrowed JFC’s chances of ending up in the top two.
Tophat 17 Gold (GA) will have to wait until Friday to try and secure a berth to Nationals after it fell, 1-0, to Loudoun 98 Red (VA). The two Under-16 Blue Division sides couldn’t be separated during the first hour of play, and the game entered the final 20 minutes in a scoreless tie. Loudoun’s Allyson Brown got on the end of a cross and provided the breakthrough goal in the 64th minute. The Virginia side held off some late Tophat pressure to secure the shutout and move into second place in the group. Tophat still sits atop the division and can clinch a top-two finish with a winon Friday.
Defending National Champion JFC Storm 98/99 (FL) is heading back to Nationals thanks to a hard-fought 2-0 win over BRYC 98 Elite (VA) in Under-16 Red Division play. After a scoreless first half, JFC’s Mikaela McGee found the back of the net in the 46th minute to give her side the lead. BRYC pushed for an equalizer, but Leila Azari added a late insurance goal for the Florida side, as it secured at least a top-two finish with the victory. The division winner won’t be decided until the games play out in Las Vegas.
In a physical Under-17 Blue Division matchup, Tampa Bay United 97 Premier (FL) and Beadling SC Wolfpack 97/98 (PA-W) played to a 1-1 tie. Beadling grabbed an early lead when Gabrielle Smychynsky recorded a ninth-minute goal, but Tampa responded later in the half with a tally from Danielle Gordon. The Florida side, which could have secured a top-two finish with a win, pressured the Beadling goal late in the game but couldn’t generate a game-winner as the teams split the points.
Tophat 16 Gold (GA) pulled even with Michigan Jaguars 98 Green (MI) atop the Under-17 Red Division by beating the Michigan side, 4-0. Grace Jackson and U.S. Under-18 National Team forward Belle Briede each scored twice in the opening half to give Tophat a comfortable lead. The Georgia side didn’t allow any signs of a comeback, as it secured the 4-0 win. A win by either side on Friday would put pressure on the division teams still to play in Las Vegas.
Maitland 96/97 Florida Krush Black (FL) had a chance to secure a top-two finish in the Under-18 Blue Division on Thursday, but it will have to wait after playing to a 1-1 tie with Kings Hammer Academy (OH-S). KHA took the lead on a 29th-minute strike from Bayley Feist, as the Ohio side looked to build off the momentum of Wednesday’s win. However, Maitland responded in the 64th minute when Ruvimbo Mucherera found the back of the net. The game finished even at 1-1, as the teams split the points — leaving both sides with key games on Friday.
In the Under-18 Red Division, VSA Heat 96 Blue (VA) picked up its second shutout of the week to jump into first place in the group. Playing against NSA Jaguars (IL) on Thursday, the Virginia side broke through in the 14th minute on a Karina Lacey goal. Michele Micciche extended the advantage to 2-0 with a strike later in the half, and VSA held on for the shutout win. With the four teams directly behind VSA in the standings still to play in Las Vegas, the Heat can’t secure a top-two finish, but a win on Friday puts pressure on the rest of the group.
National League action continues Friday, Jan. 2, at ESPN Wide World of Sports with games at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon.