Today marks the beginning of the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships, being held this year at a beautiful new facility in Citizens Bank Fields at Progin Park in Lancaster, Massachusetts.
Teams in 12 age groups will square off through Sunday to determine this year’s national champions. Following is a look at the age groups and what to expect.U14 Boys
Traditional heavyweight clubs CASL Elite (North Carolina) and St. Louis Scott Gallagher are here along with nouveau riche Southern California outfit West Coast FC and the upstart Dix Hills Thunder of Long Island, including uber-talented Dylan Greenberg. The Southern Californians are my favorites to win, but the youngest and oldest age groups are always the least predictable.
So Cal Blues (right) look do well at Nationals.U14 Girls
Also a collection of giants on the club scene, with local team Scorpions SC hosting Chicago giants Eclipse, CASL Elite (North Carolina) and Northern California’s Mustang Blast. This one is tough but I’ll give a slight nod to home cooking and the Scorpions.The schedule for the U15 through U17 age groups is flawed. These division include six teams, the four regional champions and two qualifiers from U.S. Youth Soccer’s National League. Last year the teams were divided into two, three-team groups with the group winners advancing to the final. This year everybody is put into one six-team group, but teams only play three group matches meaning there is potential for serious difference in strength of schedule. The top two point-earners will play in the championship game.U15 Boys
Repeat visitors here include South Charlotte SA, Baltimore Casa Mia Bays and Grand Rapids Crew Juniors (Michigan). Also in the group are Columbus club Blast FC, Philadelphia-area club Spirit United Celtic and Arizona heavyweights Sereno 94 White. Look for the Bays from Baltimore to come out on top in the end.
This is a really talented age group featuring some of the top girls’ programs in America. Dallas Texans 94 Red, St. Louis Scott Gallagher, So Cal Blues-Pearson and San Diego Surf White are among the marquee names, but no more so than the excellent program at FC Pennsylvania, better known as Penn Strikers. Chantilly Burn are perhaps lesser known but shouldn’t be taken the least bit lightly.
I’ll close my eyes, throw a dart and name So Cal Blues as the slight favorite.U16 Boys
Hassan Nazari is after another national title and he’s got a good team here in Dallas Texans. PJ Brown’s Arsenal FC is here, featuring talented forward Raul Mendiola and a great collection of skill players. Nuno Pitiera’s GSA Phoenix team (Georgia) has won a lot of trophies and now looks to add this one to the cabinet.
Also on hand here are championship-caliber teams in Hicksville Strikers (NY), CESA Premier (SC) and Campton United Navy (IL). I’ve learned not to bet against Hassan and Texans however.U16 Girls
Goal-scoring wiz Kelsey Smigel is one reason to keep an eye on Cleveland FC at this age group, but you’ve also got powerhouse teams from Dallas Texans and So Cal Blues, plus very accomplished teams from smaller clubs such as Syosset Rough Riders (NY), Ponte Vedra Storm (FL). I have hunch about the Northern California entry, DeAnza Force Blue coached by Shawn Medved. Based on some good reports, so I’m making them my surprise pick to win.
Lower Merion (white) competesU17 Boys
The two Philadelphia-area rivals Lower Merion Velez and YMS Xplosion are on hand to do battle with Dallas Texans (the Houston version this time – featuring Kyle Emerson who was such a revelation at adidas ESP), Southern California representatives CZ Elite, a very heady Triangle United Gold team (NC) and Louisville-area club Javanon. The EPA clubs play each other for the who-knows-how-many time, and that could conspire to make it harder for each to make the final. Sorry but I’m wimping out on this one. This is a true toss-up.U17 Girls
This is the Mother of all Age Groups, Group of Death, whatever you want to call it. There are so many talented teams and players in this group, even some who didn’t make it here.
You can start with Eclipse Select and Dallas Texans who met for the championship last year, with Ryan Higginbotham’s Texans team coming out on top. Looking at the cast of players and their college commitments for these two teams shows you what true quality is oozing out of this group. Then it’s over to Region I Champions PDA Fire coached by Tom Anderson, another team loaded top to bottom with DI talent. Crossfire Premier caused a bit of a surprise by winning Region IV, but Dick McCormick’s Seattle-area team has a host of top-quality players as well and will have to be reckoned with.
Add to that mix Campbell Chapman’s GSA Phoenix and Keri Sarver’s Internationals team from the Cleveland area and you’ve got a loaded group. Texans and Eclipse are kept apart in the group games so you could see them as favorites to reach the title game, but there are a lot of land mines out there for both teams. In the end it is Texans’ title until Rory Dames’ Eclipse or someone else takes it away, so I’ll give them the slightest of nods to defend the crown.U18 Boys
This is probably the hardest age group because of Academy and the way interests change for teenagers already committed to colleges. The Javanon 91 team coached by Graham Merryweather has been good for a long time and looks to have kept its core group together, so I’ll give them the edge over talented opposition from Westside Metros Internationals (OR), DSC 90 Green (SC), East Fishkill Thunder (NY).U18 Girls
A lot of the Edmond SC Black players from Oklahoma have been to this stage before, but they’ve never quite taken the big prize. They’ll be matched with talent-rich squads from FC Bucks Vipers (PA), Ohio Elite and Pleasanton Rage. It’s a pretty even group but in the end I’ll give a slight edge to Northern Californian representatives Pleasanton Rage.U19 Boys
Mostly college-players competing here. Baltimore Casa Mia Bays, Colorado Rush Nike, NASA 08 Elite, Pike Indy Burn Eagles.
Birmingham United, Colorado Rush Nike, Eclipse Select, FC DELCO Fury.
(TopDrawerSoccer.com will have daily coverage of the nationals through Sunday’s finals).