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Youth Boys Nov 13, 2012

Warm weather blesses 2012 Capital Fall Classic in Richmond, Va.

By Charles Boehm

The logo for the Richmond Strikers’ Capital Fall Classic tournament features a deep-orange turning leaf, and on Saturday and Sunday there was indeed plenty of autumn foliage on display across central Virginia for participants in the event’s Boys Weekend.

They were also greeted by a somewhat unexpected presence: the sun.

A rare November warm front rolled through the region just in time to provide warm daylight and balmy temperatures for the 164 boys teams competing in Under-9 through U-18 play at five locations across the River City. It managed to make sunblock a more important accessory than the long sleeves and gloves normally required at this time of year.

“We trained on Wednesday – it snowed,” said Joe Longenecker, coach of Lancaster County, Penn.-based team PA Classics Premier 95, who won the Under-18 High School Classic division.

“This is much, much nicer.”

The ideal playing conditions made the use of the all-artificial-turf facilities at River City Sportsplex, formerly known as SportsQuest, less crucial than it might have been had it rained. The Capital Falls Classic’s venues nonetheless drew praise from many of the teams which traveled from as far afield as Canada, South Carolina and Ohio to take part.

“Virginia soccer is a very, very high level,” said Columbus Crew Juniors Gold East U-14s coach John Barleycorn. “They have great leagues here, the facilities are great. One of the main reasons why we came here was because of the facilities and the competition.”

Conversations with the likes of Barleycorn leave no doubt that the Strikers are on to something with their gambit to increase their fall event’s visibility and appeal by offering Jefferson Cup berths to the winners of its Premier divisions.

“We’re just really excited to be here,” said Andrew Bradham, coach of Raleigh, N.C.-based Liberty FC MSF U18. “It’s great facilities, the Strikers always put on good events and we’re just looking forward to hopefully getting a bid into the Jeff Cup.”

Bradham’s squad did exactly that by winning the U-18 High School Premier flight. That achievement provided the three-year-old program with what might be its only feasible route into the prestigious March event, given its lack of history compared to the many other clubs clamoring for entry in the Jefferson Cup.

That potential reward, along with the generally high level of competitiveness and a good number of teams entering the Capital Fall Classic in full stride thanks to fall league play, added an extra edge to many divisions.

“Sometimes coming out of the gate these kids tend to be a little bit slower, and they tend to play down to the level of competition,” said Ed Nagle, assistant coach of the Churchland SL Dawgs G2, a talented U-14 team who were sorely tested by their counterparts in the U-14 Premier bracket.

“Today they had a really strong team and quite frankly, they ratcheted it up a little bit and they played really well,” added Nagle after his team’s narrow 2-1 loss to Crew Juniors East Gold on Saturday.

Despite the fact that the Capital Fall Classic falls squarely in the business end of the NCAA season, a few college coaches also turned up to do some scouting.

“It’s good,” said Ryan Huber, an assistant coach at North Carolina Wesleyan whose program is presently focused on its 2013 recruiting class. “Seeing some good players that could possibly into the college level.”

Huber was drawn to Richmond through communication with a player taking part in the event. Like many college coaches, he urged prospective recruits to be similarly proactive by reaching out to the schools they are interested in.

“For a day like today at this tournament, there’s 20 teams that are playing throughout the day and we might not have an opportunity to see everybody play,” he explained. “So if players contact us then we make sure to go watch them play. Otherwise they might slip under the radar.”