They go by the nicknames, J and K. But they aren’t kidding around when they take the field.
Natalie Jacobs and Natalie Kennedy are two of the top center midfielders in the country for the U15 age group, which is pretty remarkable that they are on the same team, but on top of that, both Natalies are actually playing up a year.
“I never think about them as playing up,” said West Coast FC U15 head coach Gus Castaneda. “Both girls have had older sisters in our club, and they have been around the club since they were six or seven.”
Jacobs is more of an attacking player, she leads her high school in scoring as a freshman, according to her coach.
Kennedy is the destroyer of the midfield. Despite her size, she is ruthless in the holding midfield position.
“She has an incredible soccer IQ,” said Castaneda. “One of the smartest players I have ever seen. She reads the game very well and always knows where the ball needs to go to get out of pressure.”
The pairing of Natalies in the center of the field has West Coast FC at the top of the SoCal Conference Standings with a 6-0-2 record. But, the coach is quick to point out there are quite a few other players who deserve credit for that undefeated start to the season.
“The reason the team is successful is because it has so many talented players,” said Castaneda. “It is a very deep team. We have 19 players on the roster, and I don’t have any reservation about playing of the players.”
The coach went on to say that a variety of players have chipped in with some timely goals so far this year.
Holding the top spot amongst the Southern California teams is nothing new for this group. Castaneda said that this is basically the same group from the past few years in the Coast Soccer League’s Gold bracket, where West Coast FC has finished either first or second since U12.
The goals for West Coast FC, however, remain on a bigger stage.
“We always set our goals on the top prize,” said the coach. “We want to qualify for the National Championship of the ECNL at the end of the season. We want to win it.”
Standing in the way of West Coast FC and a date with the title is 29 other teams from the Flight A of the ECNL and a few months of rust. The team is currently on break for its high school season, and will not return to action until the beginning of March.
“I use the analogy of the treadmill. Before the players left for high school, we were going full speed,” said Castaneda about dealing without practicing for a few months. “When they return, the treadmill is a couple notches down, then it gets cranked back up. We go hard in training, but it usually takes a few weeks to get it back.”
Luckily for West Coast FC, it returns to action on March 10 against another team on break for high school soccer, Eagles Soccer Club. But Castaneda’s team has a busy month with a college showcase event in Las Vegas and the ECNL National Showcase Event in San Diego at the end of the month.
His squad seems up for the challenge.
J.R. Eskilson is a staff reporter at TopDrawerSoccer.com. Follow him on or send him an email.