The Under-14 girls are excited to get their first US Youth Soccer National League season underway in North Carolina, as the league will include their age group for the first time in 2013-14.
Legends FC 99 (CA-S) will be a favorite to claim the Blue Division title after winning the 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championship and Region IV title. The California side’s experience in the competitive US Youth Soccer National Championship Series events should help prepare Legends for the quality teams they will face in the National League.
Legends plays well defensively, making it difficult for opponents to create scoring chances. The defense is led by Alexis Rushlow and Alexandra Jaquez, who each earned Best XI honors at last year’s National Championships. The reigning champions counter their stout defensive play with a balanced attack that makes them a tough matchup for any team.
One of the squads that will compete with Legends for the Blue Division crown is Tophat 18 Gold (GA). The high-scoring Georgia side fell to the eventual Region III champions and failed to advance out of the group stage last year, and they’re now ready to compete for a top two National League finish to earn a bid to Nationals.
"I know the girls, because they didn’t get out of their group last year, they’re looking forward to it. They’ve played a lot of teams that are in National League, and they’ve had competitive games with them," said Troy Garner, Tophat’s Director of Coaching and assistant coach for the Under-14 team. "It’s an extra benefit that if they do well, they’ll automatically go to Nationals this summer. The girls are working hard to make that happen."
Oklahoma FC 00 (OK), which narrowly missed out on a trip to Nationals after a one-goal loss in the Region III Championship final, will be another squad competing for a high finish in the division. Opposing defenses will have to pay attention Oklahoma FC’s Aubrey Ruttman after she led the Region III Championships with eight goals.
Cleveland FC (OH-N) could also be a team to watch in the Blue Division after it went 7-0-0 in the Midwest Regional League, proving it can be successful in a league format.
In the Red Division, Region III Champion Solar Chelsea Elite 00 (TX-N) highlights the group. Golden Glove winner Peyton York leads a Solar defense that allowed just three goals at Regionals, with two conceded to Oklahoma FC in the final. Catiana Lychwek scored the game winner in the Region III final, as well as two goals at Nationals en route to a Best XI recognition — making her a player to watch up top for Solar.
Century V X-treme (PA-W) could be another contender in the Red Division after posting a solid record in Regional League play and making a run to the semifinals at the Region I Championships. The Pennsylvania side outscored opponents 11-0 in group play at Regionals before a one-goal loss in the semifinals.
With U.S. National Team pool player Emily Ashby in the midfield, Grand Rapids Crew Jrs. 00 Gold (MI) could be a dangerous team to look out for. Grand Rapids did well in last year’s league play, as it went undefeated in the Midwest Regional League.
The number of talented teams from different areas of the country makes National League play a great opportunity for teams and players to challenge themselves and improve their skills along the way.
"I expect for it to be challenging. I expect for them to be tested against, not only very athletic players, but very sophisticated, technically adapt players who can play different styles and challenge the players’ thinking in a competitive environment," Garner said. "There are different styles and different ways of going about things that will add different questions as a player. So, they’ll have to figure things out for themselves on the field, which will, in the long run, make them better at evaluating circumstances and making good decisions."
Players to watch…
Aubrey Ruttman (Oklahoma FC): Led Region III Championships with eight goals
Kaylee Ramirez (Legends FC): Game-winner in Region IV Championship final
Elaily Hernandez-Repreza (Legends FC): Game-winner in the National Championship final
Lauren Tovy (Solar Chelsea): Six goals at Region III Championships
Catiana Lychwek (Solar Chelsea): Two goals at Nationals; Game-winner in Region III Championship final
Emily Ashby (Grand Rapids Crew): U.S. National Team pool