The teams in the Under-15 age group are excited to get their first National League season underway, with the four Regional Champions divided alongside several talented squads in each division.
Defending US Youth Soccer National Champion Eastside FC 98 Red (WA) highlights the Blue Division and will be a tough matchup for any of the seven other teams in the group. The Eastside offense is led by U.S. National Team pool player Joanna Harber, who was the top scorer at the National Championships with four goals. On defense, U.S. National Team pool player Zoe Milburn and Nationals Best XI honoree Kaylene Pang anchor a unit that allowed just one goal at the National Championships.
Eastside coach Tom Bialek said one of the secrets to his team’s success is its chemistry, as the players enjoy being together both on and off the field. As they get together to prepare for the National League season, they’re eager for the challenges they’ll face.
"It’s very important for kids to play against good teams that challenge them, and National League certainly will do that," Bialek said. "It’s going to be great competition. Every team that is there has to have pretty significant accomplishments just to get into the league. There’s not going to be an easy game, which is how you want it."
Region II Champions NSA Rockets (IL) could also contend for the top spot in the Blue Division. The Illinois side features two US Youth Soccer ODP Region II players, forward Nikki Hernandez and midfielder Lauren Long. Futura Academy Forte (MO), which lost in a penalty kick shootout to NSA Rockets in the Region II semifinals, will be a team to watch out for in the division, as well.
The Red Division is headlined by National finalist YMS Premier Xplosion 98 (E-PA). Goalkeeper Danielle Samson earned the Golden Glove award at the National Championships for helping guide her team to the final, and the Pennsylvania side will hope to string together some positive results in National League to earn an automatic qualifying spot back to Nationals.
Another squad that could make some noise in the Red Division is Region III Champion Tophat 17 Gold (GA). Tophat conceded the fewest goals at the Region III Championships and showcased similar stout defending at Nationals, while U.S. National Team pool player Reagan Glisson leads the Georgia side’s offense.
Alliance Academy 99 Black (MI) also features a U.S. National Team pool member, Madison Alexander, who could help make her team a difficult test for opponents.
Red Division teams can’t overlook Pride Predators 99 (CO), which displayed a dominant performance at the Region IV Championships before dropping a 2-1 decision to Eastside in the semifinals.
While this is the first National League season for the players in this age group, there’s certainly not a lack in talent. With the skill level that will be present on the field, games and momentum can swing in an instant. Bialek expects the level of play to be similar to the National Championships, where he said teams must play well, and have a bit of luck on their side, to win.
With each game being a challenge, Bialek knows the importance of getting off to a good start during the first week of play in North Carolina.
"You just want to be in control of your own destiny," he said. "If you can get out of that first weekend and still be alive to control your fate the second weekend, I think that’s what you aim to do. I don’t think anyone is going to get through that thing unblemished. It’s not realistic to think a team will go through and win every game."
Players to watch…
Nikki Hernandez (NSA Rockets): ODP Region II; Four goals at Region II Championships
Lauren Long (NSA Rockets): ODP Region II
Reagan Glisson (Tophat): U.S. National Team pool; Five goals at Region III Championships; Two goals at Nationals
Kayla Bruster (Tophat): ODP Region III
Kara Henderson (Tophat): ODP Region III
Landon Lambert (Tophat): ODP Region III
Bailey Peacock (NASA): ODP Region III
Laura Roberts (Eastside): Game-winner in Region IV Championship final
Joanna Harber: (Eastside): U.S. National Team pool; Four goals at Nationals
Zoe Milburn (Eastside): U.S. National Team pool
Madison Alexander (Alliance Academy): U.S. National Team pool
Sadie Misiewicz (Alliance Academy): ODP Region II
Clara Robbins (PWSI): ODP Region I
Danielle Samson (YMS): Golden Glove winner; Best XI at Nationals