The Under-14 boys are excited to get their first National League season underway in North Carolina, as the league will include their age group for the first time in 2013-14.
In the Blue Division, Raiders FC (IL) will look to use its experience gained in the 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championship Series to push for a first-place finish atop the group. Raiders dominated at the Region II Championships, outscoring their opponents 19-1 en route to the title. Cesar Cosio led Raiders at the Region II Championships with five goals. He’ll be joined in the attack by Isaiah Nieves, who was named to the Best XI at the National Championships.
Just as all the U-14 teams will be competing in the National League for the first time this season, Raiders coach Sergi Daniv will also be experiencing what the league has to offer for the first time. Though he’s new to the league, Daniv expects the National League matchups to be similar to the tests his team faced during their run to Nationals.
"The benefits of the National League to me would be playing the best teams in your age group in the country," Daniv said. "From the experience we had at Nationals and Regionals as well, the tournaments were very well organized. It was a great experience for the kids. I can’t really speak that much about it because this is our first time doing National League. I’m not sure how to compare it to Regionals and Nationals, but I anticipate similar challenges against a high level of competition."
Pushing Raiders for the Blue Division title could be 99 CSA Predator (NC) and 00 Lobos Rush Premier (TN). CSA Predator went undefeated during preliminary play at the Region III Championships to win its group before falling in a tight 2-1 game in the semifinals. Lobos Rush used resilient defense to win its group at Regionals but also fell short in a 2-1 semifinal matchup to miss out on the final. Both teams will now be hungry to string together wins in the National League and capture one of the automatic bids to the National Championships.
The Region III Champions, United FA 00 Elite (GA), headline the Red Division as they’ll look to secure a top two finish in the group and return to Nationals. United FA displayed a dynamic offensive attack at Regionals, led by Carlos Reyes’ five goals. He’ll look to continue that goal-scoring form when his team matches up against many equally talented squads in National League.
OP Eagles G1 (OH-S) could be a tough challenger in the Red Division after a second-place finish at the Region II Championships and a 6-0-0 Midwest Regional League run. The Eagles will look to Luke Kiley, who led the Region II Championships with eight goals, to be a focal point of their offense.
Scorpions SC Boston (MA) could also be a team to watch after it went 7-0-0 in the Region I Premier League North.
With several years ahead of these teams, this National League season could provide the first of many high-intensity matchups between some of the squads. Daniv said his expectations for his team are high, although he pointed out there are no easy games at this level. His Raiders squad is looking forward to facing some of the top teams in the country, and the players hope to finish at the top and earn their way back to the National Championships.
"It’s definitely something to play for. The bids to Nationals give you a goal to play for in the league. It’s like you get rewarded," Daniv said. "The boys understand that, and they’re all excited about it. They’re all looking forward to it and talk about it. They had a real good experience at Regionals and the National Championships last year. They can’t wait to get back there."
Players to watch…
Luke Kiley (OP Eagles G1): Led Region II Championships with eight goals
Dapo Orelesi (GSA): ODP Region III
Isaiah Nieves (Raiders FC): Best XI at Nationals
Carlos Reyes (United FA): Two goals in Region III Championship final; Best XI at Nationals
Berk Watson (United FA): ODP Region III