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Tournaments Mar 12, 2013

Young teams find their ways to success at Jefferson Cup

By Jimmy LaRoue

Teams in the younger age groups at the Jefferson Cup displayed a remarkable degree of creativity on the ball as they begin to pick up the more technical parts of the game, whether playing full-sided 11v11, or smaller-sided 7v7 or 8v8 as they work their way to the full-sided teams in the older age groups.

Three different teams, with differing philosophies, the U-10 Bethesda Blue 02TR and the U-11 St. Mary’s Youth Soccer Wolfpack, playing 8v8, and the U-11 Cedar Stars Academy of New Jersey, playing 11v11, still have the commonality of fostering a family, team-like atmosphere, where their overall success is greater than that of any individual. Bethesda and Cedar Stars both came away winning titles, while St. Mary’s earned its stripes, going an even 1-1-1 in a difficult bracket.

Bethesda Blue 02TR Under-10 coach Trevor Martin said he liked the way that, with the disparity in the scorelines in his team’s favor, his boys could display their individual flair. However, he cautions that it could lead to bad habits going forward.

Bethesda picked up a Jefferson Cup title over the weekend, winning all four of its games by a combined 21-2, including a 6-1 win over Richmond Kickers U-10B Elite Man United in the final. He said the larger margins of victory can breed bad habits.

“I’d say as far as creativity and dribbling, they’ve been doing a lot of stuff since U-8, U-7, and they’ve grown up playing the game and do a lot of technique in training,” Martin said after a 7-0 win Saturday against Premier AC Elite 02 White of Virginia. “As far as that game, and winning the game this morning (5-0 against Richmond Strikers Arteta), because of the score and the competition, as the game gets tougher, there’s going to be less time for them to play on the ball and be like a playground and they’ll have to be more organized and play quicker.”

It did face a tougher test in the semifinal, winning just 3-1 over Future Monarchs-Red, another Maryland team, before picking the win over the Kickers in the final. His main focus is technique and development, keeping them comfortable on the ball and make a proper pass.

“At this age group, you’re always pushing them to be creative and take players 1v1,” Martin said. “It’s one of the weaknesses of U.S. Soccer, but at the same time, they still have to be able to play and stay organized.”

For Cedar Stars Academy U-11 coach George Altirs, his young club’s philosophy is all about fostering a player’s individual skill.

Altirs started the club, based out of Carlstadt, New Jersey, “to provide a unique opportunity for youths from urban areas in New Jersey who may not have had an opportunity to show their creativity on the field.”

CSA has only been around for a year-and-a-half, but that hasn’t stopped it from finding success in its methods, and made the eight hour drive back to New Jersey with two Jefferson Cup titles. The U-11s won the Boys U-11 11v11 Championship bracket. The U-12s won the Boys U-12 Championship 11v11 title.

“The kids did a beautiful job because of the support of their parents and the coaching staff,” Altirs said after the U-11s defeated JIGS Elmont Roma of New York for the second time this weekend to win the U-11 title. “We are very proud of them.”

He said the club enjoyed every moment of being at the Jefferson Cup, on and off the field.

While the field can seem to be daunting, with 11-year olds playing on a full length, 120-yard field, Altirs said it prepares them well for the future.

“We don’t care about that,” Altirs said. “We like the challenge. We’re all about high-level soccer, and it’s what the kids are going to be playing when they’re 14, 15 or in college.”

He said it is important to teach them good values on and off the field.

“We want to teach them the life through soccer,” Altirs said. “We want to teach them how they’re going to behave in high school, how they’re going to be when they go to college, how responsible, how serious, how dedicated they’re going to be, and then have discipline, respect each other, have friends. … That’s what we do.”

He said that with the kids being serious and responsible, practicing three times per week, and helped by the family atmosphere the parents and coaching staff provide, it helps brings out their creativity.

“They do play a lot,” Altirs said. “They work very hard. We have a good coaching staff. We give them the tactics, and we let them be creative in their dribbling and have nice skills. We have a very good coaching staff that teaches them all about soccer, from the fitness, from the skills and techniques and the tactics.”

Currently, CSA is focused on the five-to-12-year-old age group, but will grow to a full-fledged clubs as the players get older.

The St. Mary’s Youth Soccer Wolf Pack didn’t have quite the success it might have liked, but the team’s coach, Doug Harris, had nothing but praise for the Jefferson Cup and his team’s performance. The team finished second in the Group A division of the Boys U-11 Championship 8v8 bracket with a 1-1-1 record. He has his team focused on holding onto the ball and defending.

“We’re working on possession and marking,” Harris said. “We played against some lighter competition earlier and we didn’t have to mark people as much, but now that we’re playing these tougher competition [at the Jefferson Cup],  we’re finding that the passes are a lot more precise, and we have to mark people better a little bit better than we’ve been doing. They were getting away with it before and now we can’t anymore.”

He said that’s the difference between U-10 and U-11. At U-9 and U-10, Harris said they’re a lot more kicking of the ball to get it out of danger, whereas at U-11, he’s trying to teach them to possess the ball out of danger.

“We are a work in progress,” Harris said. “We haven’t played the toughest competition, so we’re just now getting there. We took the winter off. All of these teams played throughout the winter, so for us coming out and this being the first thing we’ve really done this winter, I’m very pleased with the way they’re doing.”

St. Mary’s, located along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in southern Maryland, is more of a farming community with a mix of residents from the Patuxent Naval Air Station. It hasn’t typically had the bigger player pools from which to draw for its club, but it is growing steadily. The players, most of whom grew up in the area, hang out together on-and-off the field.

He said just in the last year, the club’s growth has allowed it to establish ‘B’ teams.

“We’re trying to build ourselves up,” Harris said. “The biggest thing for us is keeping our players home. What was happening in the past is they’d start to go off to the Bethesdas, places like that. They’d start to migrate away, but we just got Division 1 this year in NCSL (National Capital Soccer League), so now players are actually starting to think about, from Waldorf and places like that, migrating down, and we’re keeping the players that we’ve got.”

While St. Mary’s doesn’t mind picking up players here and there, they’re not looking to draw players from other places. He’s proud of the way his group has progressed, saying they’re all best friends–“it’s just the Wolfpack that shows up at birthday parties.”

“At this point, we’re happy with what we’ve got,” Harris said. “It’s tough, I’ll be honest with you. We don’t have 12 Division 1 kids. When you’re a small town, you get maybe five or six that are at that level, and the rest, you’re doing the best with what you’ve got from a small town.”

He said the smaller club vibe that doesn’t see parents bicker over playing time, or who scored, is a blessing.

“This biggest thing is, there’s no competitiveness on our team,” Harris said. “If Joe scores, or John scores … there’s a big hug. Everybody’s happy for each other. Nobody cares who scores. And the parents, a big part of that, don’t care who scores. As long as we score, they’re all happy.”

And, he couldn’t be more proud of how his team played over the weekend.

“We came up here to win one game,” Harris said, “and now we have some momentum going and we’re hoping to win a few more.”

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