It was always going be harder in 2014.
Last year, Eastside FC 98 Red entered the US Youth Soccer National Championships as an unknown, a team that just two months before had never so much as won a State Championship, suddenly thrust onto the national scene following wins at State Cup and Far West Regionals. Maybe it was their underdog status, or the momentum of their thrilling summer, but the Eastside FC 98 Red girls rolled over their opponents at Nationals, claiming Washington’s first US Youth Soccer Girls National Championship trophy since 1996.
No one was going to look past Eastside FC 98 Red this year, though. Not after the team claimed the national crown in 2013, and certainly not after they backed up that performance with a win in the prestigious US Youth Soccer National League in March, which clinched their return trip to Nationals, being held this year in Germantown, Md.
Eastside FC 98 Red’s task this year was to survive as the hunted, not the hunter.
A 2-1 win in their opening game, against Michigan’s Alliance Academy 99 Black – both goals coming from Makaylie Moore – gave the team an early lift heading into its second game, a titanic rematch of last year’s National Championships final against Eastern Pennsylvania’s YMS Premier Explosion 98. Just as they did in last year’s final – a 2-1 win for the team from Washington – Eastside FC scored early through star striker Jojo Harber, only this time, YMS Premier Explosion 98 responded with three-straight goals to earn a 3-1 victory and a leg up in the race for the 2014 title.
A 1-1 draw against Cal South’s Legends FC Sanchez (including Harber’s second goal of the tournament) put the Eastside FC girls into the semi-finals as the runners-up in their four-team group, just two wins away from a second-straight national title.
Against Florida’s Jacksonville FC 98/99 Elite, Eastside FC 98 Red attacked the net early and often. The defending champions narrowly missed jumping out to another early lead when an 11th-minute shot hit the crossbar, and saw numerous deep runs by Harber thwarted at the last minute by Jacksonville’s back line. Eastside FC 98 Red’s defense was equally up to the challenge, though, and when a second Eastside FC shot hit the crossbar in the second half, it looked as if the game might be decided on penalty kicks. Deep into overtime, though, Jacksonville FC began to test Eastside FC keeper Molly Monroe; finally, in the 110th minute, the Region III squad broke through, heading in a cross to seal a 1-0 win and end Eastside FC 98 Red’s repeat dream.
Jacksonville would go on to win the National Championship the following day, defeating YMS Premier Explosion 98 by another 1-0 margin.
“The National Championships always has very difficult competition; every single game requires everything you’ve got,” said Eastside’s head coach Tom Bialek. “You have to bring everything you have and if you come up even a little bit short with your effort you pay for it.”
For complete scores, game recaps and more from the US Youth Soccer National Championships, visit http://championships.usyouthsoccer.org/.