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ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 28, 2012) – The US Youth Soccer National League Under-15, Under-16, Under-17 and Under-18 Boys showcased their talents in front of hundreds of college coaches in meaningful and competitive matches today at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla., alongside the Disney Soccer Showcase. Teams competing in Orlando will wrap up their season tomorrow while the rest of the league will compete in Las Vegas March 15-17 before standings are finalized.
After Under-15 Sunrise Elite 97/98 (FL) secured a top-two finish yesterday, today they defeated CUP Crew Jrs. 97 (OH-S) 3-0 to wrap up the Blue Division title. Frederick Gil struck twice today for Sunrise to move into a tie for second in scoring, while Donald Emerson scored the third to move into a tie for the scoring lead. Sunrise will face Concorde Fire Elite (GA) tomorrow as Concorde tries to grab the second seed and Sunrise attempts to become just the third boys team ever to complete a perfect 7-0 season
Two more teams clinched automatic berths to the National Championships today. Under-17 OBGC Rangers (MD) and Lehigh Valley United 95 (E-PA) will finish 1-2 in the Red Division standings, but the order will be decided tomorrow in yet another match between the two Region I rivals with the division title on the line. OBGC have the upper hand as a draw will claim the division.
Lehigh will return to Nationals for the second straight year after winning the Region I Championship last summer. Both Lehigh and OBGC have qualified for the National League all three years they’ve been eligible, but neither have claimed a top spot and OBGC have finished one point from the top each of the last two years to miss out on the National Championships. In Region I Championships play, OBGC has had equally disappointing results, falling in overtime of the final in 2011 to SDFC Gauchos (NJ) and in the semifinals to Lehigh in 2012. With numerous championships that includes last year’s Dallas Cup title, OBGC’s ultimate goal is to win the National Championship.
“I think it’d be a good way for them to close a chapter, to win the National Championship,” said OBGC Rangers Head Coach Matt Pilkington. “They’ve won pretty much everything else there is to win, but they also want to compete at the highest level. Yesterday we beat the National finalists 5-1, last year we beat the Michigan Jaguars, who won the National Championship, 4-0. So, we know we’re capable of winning the National Championship. We feel we’re one of, if not the strongest, U-17 club teams in the country and we just want to close it out. We’re focused on college scholarships and developing further, but they’re all invested in this and want to finish it the right way. I would have liked to have done it a couple seasons ago when we thought we had a very good chance, but they’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort into this year and finishing it off.
“They have a lot of motivation after coming close the last two years. We’ve done more this fall to train for National League than in the past. We went to England and played some academy teams over there, went to IMG and played the Under-17 U.S. National Team, and we’ve done some extra stuff to be at a very high level so we could win the National League and qualify for the National Championships. We’re very excited for Nationals this summer.”
OBGC boasts a roster full of collegiate, professional and National Team prospects, and haven’t missed a beat since saying goodbye to star midfielder Gideon Zelalem after last season, who accepted a spot at English Premier League giant Arsenal FC’s youth program. The team has stuck together with ideas of having similar opportunities.
“We have excellent chemistry. There is a real desire from these players to play at the highest level and they always wanted to stick together because they enjoy working, training and playing together,” said Pilkington. “We train pretty much full-time, more than most teams, and the commitment to win the National Championship from these boys is there because they’re all invested in it.
“They saw one of their teammates, Gideon, have opportunities at a higher level and they hope to do the same. They understand what it takes and they have an environment which they find challenging and enjoyable, and that’s kind of been the secret to what we’re doing. Players are open to do what they choose, but they chose to all stick together and we’re reaping the rewards now in terms of the level they’re at and the exposure they’re getting. They’re being monitored by the National Team, as well as some European and professional teams, and we’ve also enjoyed a lot of college exposure. Our team manager counted over 50 college coaches at our game today. So, they’re getting a lot of exposure and have a lot of options. The majority of our team are juniors, but one of our few seniors has committed to Indiana, who is the current NCAA National Champion, so that goes to show you the level that these kids can play at. A majority of our players will play high-level Division I in college.”
As many as six more teams can solidify their place in the National Championships tomorrow; U-15 Bethesda Lions (MD), U-16 Concorde Fire (GA) and GSA Phoenix 97 Red (GA), U-17 CUP Crew Jrs. Gold 95 (OH-S) and U-18 Galaxy SC 94/95 Blue (IL) and Concorde Fire (GA).
The National League is an extension of the highly successful US Youth Soccer Regional Leagues (US Youth Soccer Region I Premier League, Midwest Regional League, Region III Premier League and Far West Regional League). The National League brings together some of the best teams in the country, all of which have earned their place in the league with a proven track record of success in US Youth Soccer regional and national competition, regardless of club affiliation or location.
The National League provides a unique opportunity of progression for the top teams in the US Youth Soccer Regional Leagues. Teams that earned their spot in the National League compete against other top teams in the nation with the hopes of earning a league title and a ticket to the prestigious US Youth Soccer National Championships.