Eastside FC 98 Red begin defense of 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championship
By Brian Beaky
Tom Bialek’s Eastside FC 98 Red girls have had six months to celebrate their 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championship, the first by a Washington Youth Soccer girls team in almost 20 years.
Now, it’s time to defend it.
The US Youth Soccer National League kicked off in December, bringing together the top teams from throughout the nation in North Carolina. The National League, contested at the Under-14 through Under-18 Boys and Girls divisions, is the most competitive 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 which Washington teams participate.
In addition to competing against the top teams in the nation, teams in the US Youth Soccer National League receive significant exposure to collegiate and National Team coaches, who take advantage of the opportunity to watch many of the nation’s top players in one location. An estimated 600 coaches were reported in attendance on the first weekend of play in December, along with U.S.S.F Technical Director April Heinrichs and other National Team scouts.
Sixteen teams in each age group are split into two divisions, with Eastside FC 98 Red placed into the Blue Division, along with teams from Missouri, Virginia, Cal-South, Pennsylvania-West, Alabama, Georgia and Illinois. Each team will play everyone in their division once, with games spread over three weekends from December through March (each team playing on two of the three weekends). The top-two teams in each division at the end of round-robin play are guaranteed automatic berths at the 2014 US Youth Soccer National Championships, to be joined by the four US Youth Soccer Regional Champions.
As the reigning National Champions, Bialek knows that his Eastside FC 98 Red squad will have a target on their back in the National League.
"You just want to be in control of your own destiny," he said. "If you can get out of that first weekend and still be alive to control your fate the second weekend, I think that’s what you aim to do. I don’t think anyone is going to get through that thing unblemished. It’s not realistic to think a team will go through and win every game."
If surviving the first weekend was Bialek’s goal, then consider it "mission accomplished." Despite facing two of the toughest teams in the bracket, the Eastside FC 98 Red girls won three of their four games on the opening weekend, beating Illinois’ NSA Rockets (3-0), Alabama’s Vestavia Attack 99 Black (2-1) and Virginia’s BRYC 98 Elite (2-0), and losing only to Missouri’s Futura Academy Forte (2-1).
That performance earned FC 98 Red a strong nine points from its first four matches, good for a share of second place in the Blue Division with BRYC 98 Elite (VA), each one point behind Futura Academy Forte (MO). Having already faced teams with a combined seven wins between them on the first weekend, Eastside FC 98 Red’s remaining three opponents have totaled just three wins from their first 12 matches.
Forward and U.S. National Team player Jojo Harber, along with fellow strikers Laura Roberts and Makaylie Moore tallied two goals apiece in those four games, while Eastside FC’s stellar defense — which surrendered just one goal in four games at Nationals in 2013 — was again on point, conceding just three times to post the second-best goal differential of any of the 16 teams.
Bialek said one of the secrets to his team’s success is its chemistry, as the players enjoy being together both on and off the field. As they get together to prepare for the National League season, they’re eager for the challenges they’ll face.
"It’s very important for kids to play against good teams that challenge them, and National League certainly will do that," Bialek said. "It’s going to be great competition. Every team that is there has to have pretty significant accomplishments just to get into the league. There’s not going to be an easy game, which is how you want it."
To learn more about the US Youth Soccer National League, click here.