Heading to Nationals - Part 4, The Coaches Journal
Day 1 - up and about
Players, coaches and parents up at 7:45am
Complimentary breakfast followed by a run and stretch. Players then disappeared to get ready for the big luncheon put on by the USYS Federation
11:30am luncheon starts
It is hard to believe after over 10,000 teams it's now down to the final 96 teams from across the country. 2800 players, coaches and oﬃcials will hit the Toyota soccer center home of FC Dallas. It is an amazing accomplishment for our teams to be in the Elite 8 of the u15 and u17 brackets. Looking around the room at the trophies and the organization gone into this event was very a humbling experience. As coaches, it was a proud moment when our team names were mentioned up on stage. The James P McGuire Cup is the oldest trophy in youth sports since and it was there on display. Since 1935 this trophy has been up for grabs.
Our ladies looked completely transformed in their formal attire for the luncheon. Tomorrow it is back to their soccer gear, which will become part of their make up for at least the next 3 days.
Light team session - quick session to loosen up the muscles and joints Break a little sweat and get heart rate raised
Hydrated and ready to go tomorrow
One team met for dinner while the other ventured out to separate venues. See you in the morning!
Toyota soccer complex
Imagine playing soccer on a carpet. These fields are some of the best in the country, and it will be an honor to play our soccer on these fields of dreams.
Inside the minds - Alex and Neil
The Cups and cups of English tea. The constant thoughts of how we want to prepare both teams. How will the line ups look? How will our rotations and subs impact on the field? Scouting our opponents. The non-soccer factors that could or break moments in the event.
There are so many scenarios written down on paper. The game plan laid out. The vision on how we want to tackle each day. All this comes down to the first whistle Tuesday morning. The variables in this game are a constant.
WE WILL NOT WAKE UP TO PLAY, WE WILL WAKE UP TO COMPETE FOR EVERY SECOND OVER EVERY BLADE OF GRASS.
Nationals Game Day 1
Sporting Omaha FC 2002 Elite vs Legends FC
Both teams came out in a 4-4-2 with legends playing a slight variation with a withdrawn striker. Within the first few minutes you could tell the style of which legends wanted to approach the game. Attacks coming down both flanks and for first 15 minutes SOFC ladies found themselves chasing the game. Poor communication and decision making was left to be desired in the first phase of play.
1-0 down simple turnover in midfield left the winger open to push down the field and across the goal line. The ball somehow found itself going right across the 6-yard box for a simple tap in on the back post.
1-1 great response less than 5 minutes later – a good headed clearance then pass released by CeCe Behrens found Allison Napora in a 1v1 which opened up the goal. The shot across the box was saved but cleaning up was Megan Streiﬀ. SOFC found first half very diﬃcult to find rhythm forcing unnecessary turnovers and not keeping the game simple.
Half time 1-1 All to play for
The heat was creeping up as was the game. Legends were picking and probing all areas of the field. Their front line looked dominant in the opening minutes. Mental strength was needed to ride this wave. In the 49th minute - head collision legends center back heads a ball direct into Allison Napora head, she needed immediate treatment. This played a big factor as we lost our big outlet for over 17 minutes. Corners and freekicks kept mounting up as SOFC kept dropping deeper and deeper into their own half. At times, it looked like the girls were hanging on for dear life.
2-1 - corner kick
Poor clearance oﬀ a short corner drops to a legends player who smashed a shot at goal Player on post little late to get good contact on the ball.
SOFC now having to work and rally the troops to try and get back in the game. Without a front runner, the play was bogged down in midfield and outlets to wide players looked very static. Possessional play not looking good.
3-1 - Penalty kick
A harsh decision as the striker came across the blind side of the SOFC defender. Good penalty with 10 mins to go.
3-1 final score - not a great performance we have been so accustomed. Possibly the heat and the shear pressure of the event got to our players. Tomorrow a new day looking for a positive response.
Sporting Omaha FC 2000 Elite Vs Celtic FC - Utah
1pm game - 90 plus degrees with heat index of over 100 degrees. SOFC started out playing a 4-3-3 with emphasis on playing oﬀ the counter attack. Celtic FC playing in 4-3-3 playing a style of play, something you would tag with a Barcelona approach. Very technical players with 90% of the play being played under 25 yards. SOFC spent the first 20 minutes working hard to shift drop and shift some more. This is very hard to do and the discipline to do so in this environment must be at the highest level. One lapse in concentration and good teams will find a way. Celtic FC enjoyed a lot of possession ratio of 75% to SOFC 25%.
1-0 down. One little defense found a pass on our right side that a Utah player took a good touch behind our right back and buried hard low shot near post. Unfortunate scenario but something that didn't faze the girls. The game plan was set we just had to stick to it.
Subs and change in formation 4-4-2
We always talk about impacting oﬀ the bench within 6 minutes of entering the game. Raegan Wells rolled a ball out to Grace Guidry who squeezed a pass between 2 defenders. Delaney Gunn obliged with a cool finish leaving the GK on the ground. 1-1 and back in the game.
Stay patient. We agreed the game scenario of a 4-4-2 gave us better balance. The heat was breathe taking so we talked about being more eﬃcient in our play.
Celtic FC kept playing their style - meaning the passes kept coming and combination play kept the SOFC players needing to organize and be vocally dominant. Our rotations looked to be right on the money as SOFC started to have great success picking oﬀ the passes that we could intercept and start an attack.
A big moments from Raegan Wells. Our 6ft plus GK a tower of strength in the back pulling of saves that kept the game deadlocked at 1-1. SOFC ladies starting to believe that our moment was coming.
Up steps Emma Slattery from 35 yards. Ball dropped onto her favorite right foot. The ball took an age to drop over the keepers head 2-1 leaving a shocked faced Emma surrounded by smiling faces.
Heat was playing a factor for both teams. The rhythm and tempo was almost at walking pace. Concentration and communication became the forefront of every play. Celtic FC pushed for an equalizer and got the reward. Shot saved found their right wing to push into an empty net despite eﬀorts from Raegan to stop the shot.
2-2 final score in a monumental eﬀort giving the environment. Both team battled and hard for a well-deserved point. A proud performance and something to build on for day 2.
Nationals Game Day 2
The day started off at 4:30am, team breakfast was at 5:15am, team warm up for the 2002 girls started at 6:15am, The game began very positive for the 02s, they looked comfortable for large portions of the first half but found themselves 1-0 down to a soft goal. After a blunt team talk during halftime the 2002s came out firing, and it was not long into the second half they got there first goal. It was a goal box scrabble. It took a simple tap in from Gwen Lane to go 1-1. This goal rallied the team into an all-out attacking mindset. Alaina Lewis entered the game and within 20 seconds scores a 35-yard goal, 2-1. With the game starting to look comfortable, Real Colorado had a chance of their own but Sidney Anderson pulled off a great save keeping the 02s in the lead. With little time left in the game another attack ended with the ball at Cece Behrens feet who calmly slotted it home for a 3-1 win. 02 Elite needs a win tomorrow against Cup to secure a semifinal game on Saturday.
It was now time for the 2000s to make their claim to the Semi’s, they needed a win to do so. The game started very positive with the 2000s having the lion’s share of great possession and attacking waves. Unfortunately, there was no end product and a half time the score was 0-0. Coach Hope shared the attacking plan for the second half sharing with individuals to be confident. Composed play was needed to get the result. The 00s had many chances but could not score. Due to a breakdown between the center back and midfielder, the ball found its way down the right side. A whipped in cross found the sneaky strikers chest 1-0 down. Time to bounce back. A change to 4-4-2 made for the game to stretch out deep and wide. Our creative players were finding gaps. Allison and Sophia pulling the strings as the front runner put Scottsdale under relentless pressure. It was in the 84-minute Lindsey Prokop drove into the box and was brought down. Penalty was the shout, the referee did not hesitate to point to the spot, now we needed a player with so much pressure to take the kick. Lindsey jumps up and calmly sets the ball and hits a low drive into the left side of the goal, 1-1. There were minutes left when Kaitlyn Thiele took a shot to the head which took her off the field, we are now down to 10 players trying to hold onto the game. Immediately Coach Hope changed the formation to a 3-4-2. Even with a player down it looked like the 2000s were more likely to get the game winner. The girls were still playing on the front foot and creating chances. One of which fell to Aleyse Evers who with the goal open chipped a shot towards goal only
to find the Scottsdale GK making a great save. Kaitlyn was fully cleared to return to the game. The team quickly set themselves in a 4-1-4-1 formation to see the game out. 1-1 the final score. The 2000s also need to beat the Cup team to go through to Saturdays semi.
As always, we wish our teams the best of luck.
Nationals Game Day 3
2002s, the day three started with team breakfast at 7:00am. Players looked very relaxed as they went through warm-ups. Our opponents were Cup out of Ohio. SOFC must win to advance. The game started very positive for SOFC with lots of possession in the attacking third. In the fifth minute, a great ball down the line from Sena found Allie Napora heading to goal with three cup players chasing her. Allie at full speed takes a 20-yard screamer and it is a GOAL, 1-0 up! Around the 20-minute mark with SOFC looking comfortable the game changed dramatically. A mistake by a defender left the Cup player with the ball for a simple tap in, 1-1. The analogy of poking a bee hive sprung to mind. This game changing moment had a bigger impact as Cup looked more confident and willing to take the game over. Cup, with all its talent, went on to add more goals and the end game result was 1-5. Although very disappointing we must use this experience as a teaching tool.
2000s arrived at the complex around 11:45am, they were enjoying the misting area where players could stay cool. The temperature was around 100 with a heat index above 110. Teams are ready to kick off with SOFC needing to the win to advance. The game started like a chess match both teams feeling each other out. Each team had early chances to score. As we entered the middle of the first half a ball looking to go out for a corner was quickly whipped in across the goal box and the Cup player came in to finish, 1-0 Cup. This started an endless push from Cup as they added two more goals, quickly allowing too much work for SOFC before the half. At halftime, the team set new objectives knowing we did not want to give away any more goals. They worked endlessly to get back in the game but could not get the important goal.
The experience of Nationals is everything you can imagine. The best players and teams from around the country all coming together for one purpose, to see who is the best of the best. We fully understand the work needed to maintain our clubs’ presence at the Regional leave, and now at the National level as well. We want to thank all our parents for their endless support, our players & parents came together supporting our club and for that we are very appreciative.
Technical: We need to be more clinical with the ball. Simple passes were not completed at times due to the pressure of the opponents. Taking the ball out of the air was a concern for the 2002s. The 2000s needed to take their shots when given opportunities.
Tactical: 2002s looked disconnected at times their passing game was effected due to a lack of supporting angles. The 2000s looked very organized and stayed balanced throughout.
Physical: Both teams competed very well, neither team looked out of shape and they ended every game looking the stronger team. The 2002s need to tackle with more intent of winning the ball and not just flicking tackles away. The 2000s were solid and confident in all 50/50s.
Psychological: 2002s were caught second guessing themselves, there was a lack of concentration which led to most of the game changing moments. The 2000s were very focused and looked comfortable.
2000s In review
The 2000s had a rough start to the year. And MRL season that quickly became a distant memory. Having picked themselves back up, the girls went on to retain their state title. There was also a new challenge in competing in the National League. Players realized there is more they can give to the game and continued that success during their high school season. For Regionals, we added in some 2001 players to the roster due to the increased competition. The girls made it to the Regional final. In the previous year they did not make it out of their bracket, so this was a huge improvement. After playing at Nationals, the pinnacle of youth soccer, these ladies have a new hunger to be back again next season.
2002 In review
These young guns have had some games they have had to grind and fight back from.
State cup semis and a bracket game vs Chicago in Regionals spring to mind. The enthusiasm and sometimes naive approach makes you feel there is something special still to come. The more this group matures and they will realize this game is sometimes cruel yet also rewarding in any given moment, in any game they will play.