Eastside FC 98 Red to Defend Title at 2014 US Youth Soccer National Championships
Winning a championship is hard — just ask the Seattle Seahawks, or Tom Bialek’s Eastside FC 98 Red, each of whom brought national titles back to Washington in the last year. Last July as Under-14's, Eastside claimed the US Youth Soccer National Championship, the oldest and most prestigious youth soccer national championship in the country, becoming the first Washington team to win the National Championship since 1999. Just five Washington teams have ever taken home the national title, with the first coming in 1983.
But defending it? When every team in the country knows just how good you are, and brings their “A” game against you every time, determined to be the ones to knock off the champs? It’s a feat that not many teams at any level, in any sport, are able to repeat.
That’s the task, however, that awaits Bialek’s Eastside FC girls, who clinched their second-consecutive appearance at the US Youth Soccer National Championships with a first-place finish last month in the Blue Division of the prestigious US Youth Soccer National League.
The most competitive youth soccer league in the United States — featuring the reigning champions from each of US Youth Soccer’s four Regional Championships, plus the top teams from each of the four US Youth Soccer Regional Leagues, including the Far West Regional League in which Washington teams compete — the National League affords the nation’s top youth soccer players the chance to compete against other top players and teams, and showcase themselves to collegiate and National Team coaches, hundreds of whom attend the National League weekends each year to scout the next generation of players.
Sixteen teams in each age group, U14 through U18, are split into two divisions; as the defending US Youth Soccer National Champions, Eastside FC 98 Red placed into the Blue Division, along with teams from Missouri, Virginia, Cal-South, Pennsylvania-West, Alabama, Georgia and Illinois. Teams played a round-robin over three weekends from December through March (each team playing on two of the three weekends), with the top-two finishers in each division earning automatic berths at the 2014 US Youth Soccer National Championships, to be joined by the four US Youth Soccer Regional Champions.
With nearly all of the top teams from the previous year’s Nationals in attendance, plus other elite squads, it’s like a mini-Nationals four months before the real thing in Germantown, Md., this July. Though, based on their performance, the Eastside FC 98 Red girls might wish Nationals could come even sooner.
Just as they did on their first National League weekend, in December, the Eastside girls tore through the competition in Las Vegas last month, winning all three games while failing to surrender even a single goal. The team’s 6-1 record and 18 total points easily outpaced the elite field, as did their three goals allowed in seven games. On the flip side of the ball, their 15 goals scored were third-most of the 16 Under-15 teams in attendance — in all, as complete a performance as any coach could want.
"It’s very important for kids to play against good teams that challenge them, and National League certainly [does] that," Bialek said.
In the team’s first game of the weekend, forward Joanna “Jojo” Harber tallied two goals to spark a 2-0 victory over Western Pennsylvania’s Beadling Bulldogs, adding to her impressive total of five goals scored throughout league play — second-most among all U-15 players. In the second game, against Georgia’s NASA 17 Elite, it was Harber again providing the offensive spark, crossing the ball to Ellie Bryant for the opening goal 16 minutes into the second half, then providing the first of two well-timed passes that sprung Makaylie Moore for a second goal less than 60 seconds later. (To watch a full video of Eastside’s second game, click here! To view just the goals, fast-forward to the 1:19:25 mark.) With a top-two finish already settled, the team set their sights on first place overall in the final game against Cal-South’s Surf Academy 1, notching three first-half goals by Bryant, Moore and Harber — the first just three minutes into the game — and keeping yet another clean sheet.
In all five different players combined to score Eastside’s 15 goals, including five by Harber, four by Moore, three by Bryant, two by Laura Roberts and one by Natalie Weidenbach. Harber also led all Eastside players in assists with four, while goalkeepers Molly Monroe and Alexa Kirton (a midfielder who filled in for an injured Monroe during December’s games) combined to keep five clean sheets, more than any other team in the league.
Eastside will now prepare for Germantown this July.