A trio of Regional Champions headlines the Under-15 Boys age group, as the teams look forward to their first National League season in 2013-14. Region II Champions and National finalists Michigan Wolves 99 (MI) will be a team to watch in the Blue Division, alongside 2013 Region III Champions Solar Chelsea 99 Red (N-TX).
Samuel DeLoy will be a key forward for Wolves after notching a pair of goals at Nationals and earning Best XI honors. Meanwhile, Solar Chelsea will present a balanced attack led by Carlos Reyes, Mandel Steward and Jack Woods, who each scored four goals at Regionals in 2013.
Also looking to contend for one of the top spots in the Blue Division will be Region IV finalists United FC 98 Gold (CA-S) and Region I finalists Loudoun 98 Red (VA), as each squad came close to winning its Regional title in 2013 and advancing to Nationals.
With several accomplished teams in his team’s division, Solar Chelsea coach Nuno Passos said the National League presents an opportunity to test yourself against the "elite of the elite" from across the nation — something his team has been working toward for two or three years.
"It’s a league that was set up to put the best of the best teams, nationally, together," Passos said. "I think the fact that it’s taken us a few years to get to this level; the fact that we’ve gotten here and have been asked to play, I think it’s a test for us and our kids to see how we can continue to compete on the national level.
"Man, we’re expecting a bloody nose. We’re expecting a punch in the mouth. This is such a difficult league to play in. We recognize just how incredibly difficult every game is. You make one mistake, and you fall behind. It’s very difficult to recover from a slow start."
In the Red Division, Penn Fusion 98 (E-PA) leads the way after winning the Region I Championship and narrowly missing out on a making the final at Nationals. After the Pennsylvania side won its first two games in Overland Park, Kan., a 4-1 loss to Michigan Wolves hurt its goal differential — causing Penn Fusion to miss out on the final.
Ohio Galaxies FC 98 Elite (OH-S) , which went 7-0-0 in the Midwest Regional League, and 99 Lobos Rush Premier (TN), which went 8-1-0 in the Region III Premier League Central Division, have both shown they can succeed in a league format and could also make a run at the Red Division title in this year’s National League.
With the level of talent present at each of the National League events, Passos said the league presents a great chance for players to see how they stack up to some of the best opposition in their age group.
"Playing at this level, playing with the best of the best, having the opportunity to be seen by regional coaches, national coaches, collegiate coaches — I think it just brings out the best in everybody," Passos said. "It brings out the best in the kids, the coaches and the parents. Knowing they’re competing at the highest level in the nation, and they have an opportunity to be seen. You never know when you’ll be seen, but you know there are going to be people there looking at these teams. It’s a great opportunity for a young kid to walk through the door and make a name for himself."
When it comes to their goal for National League, Solar Chelsea is no different from the other 15 U-15 Boys squads that will start their journey Nov. 21 in Wilson, N.C.
"Going in, we realize that this is such a tough tournament," Passos said. "But the good thing with National League is, if you’re somehow able to be in the top two and win maybe five of your seven games, it gives you an automatic bid back to Nationals. That’s what we’re playing for; absolutely, our goal is to come in at No. 1 or 2."
Players to watch…
Samuel DeLoy (Michigan Wolves): Two goals at Nationals; Best XI
Jacob Suppiah (Lobos): ODP Region III
Caleb Tammi (Lobos): ODP Region III
Giovani Vasquez (Loudoun): ODP Region I
Colin Shutler (Loudoun): ODP Region I
Aiden McFadden (Penn Fusion): Two goals at Nationals
Maxwell Zandi (Penn Fusion): Best XI at Nationals
Carlos Flores (Solar Chelsea): Four goals at Region II Championships
Mandel Steward (Solar Chelsea): Four goals at Region II Championships
Jack Woods (Solar Chelsea): Four goals at Region II Championships
Tristan Weber (United FA): ODP Region IV