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Two fun-loving Washington teams have made some history, and now there’s a chance to make a lot more.
Beginning July 26, Eastside FC’s 98 Red girls and Seattle United’s Copa 98 boys will battle with seven others in their respective groups, not to mention the broiling Texas summer heat with hopes of boldly going where no Washington team has gone before.
Eastside, champions as U14 three years ago, is the first team from the state to earn a third berth to the US Youth Soccer National Championships, the oldest and most prestigious youth soccer competition. Ultimately, they seek to become the first team to win a pair national crowns.
Meanwhile Seattle United, the first Washington boys team to win consecutive regional titles, is bidding to complete the rare double of a Dallas Cup (2015) and USYS championship after coming just short a year ago. They were runners-up, falling 2-1 in the final.
“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t use last season’s loss as a motivator,” admits coach Jason Farrell. “But it’s not about revenge; it’s about wanting to get back here because we remember how fun and cool it was as at Nationals, and it would be a shame not to have that experience again.”
In Washington Youth Soccer’s 50 years, the only achievement more rare than sending multiple teams to the finals (now accomplished six times, most recently being 2006) is winning a championship. Eastside won Washington’s fifth in 2013, joining Goalpost boys and FC United boys and the two FC Royals girls winners of 1996.
Just as history is a byproduct of success, the success of both Eastside and Seattle United is attributable to their hard work, work for each other, challenging one another and, oh yes, have fun doing it.
“Before the ball is put in play, they are typical teenage boys,” shares Farrell. “But when the game starts they are turned on and immediately dial in. I’ve never had to tell them to work harder, and they make each other better on a daily basis.”
Bialek remembers his first training sessions with the Eastside 98 girls. Like Farrell, a former professional player, Bialek was initially unimpressed with the girls’ seemingly carefree ways.
“When I was watching them warm up it drove me nuts,” states Bialek. “I said we need to be more serious, more focused. But then I took a step back and I realized this is what they do.
“They know how to mess around and have fun. Whatever the process to prepare for the game–provided they give the performance you want–you have to let the player have that.”
Not only are the coaches well acquainted, due to the common age group several players from both teams know one another. They won their regional titles in Boise on the same field.
“Eastside has done a phenomenal job,” offers Farrell. “It’s harder to come back and do it again.”
While the perfect record and plus-16 goal differential make it look like Eastside walked away with the West, Bialek says it was anything but.
“We ran the gauntlet, playing Cal South, Cal South, Cal North, the returning finalists and Colorado,” recounts. The sweetest result was a 5-1 victory over Arsenal (CA-S) in a rematch of the 2015 semifinal. “Nothing came easy. After six games in seven days the kids were exhausted; they left it all there.”
Likewise, the numbers would indicate Seattle United ran roughshod in Idaho, conceding just two goals. But those goals came in the first half of their quarterfinal against West Coast FC Wyss (CA-S). Copa 98 roared back to score three unanswered second-half goals.
“That epitomizes their character; they never thought they would lose that game,” reveals Farrell. “They don’t expect to win every game but they have the confidence that they can win every game.”
That confidence comes from not only their talent and abilities but also proper preparation. But there is no substitute for success, and by now both Eastside and Seattle United are steeped in success. They touched down in Texas knowing there’s hard work to be done, yet they are in a rich vein of form.
As for making history, Bialek believes that will take care of itself. For now it’s just taking each game as it comes.
“The only reason these kids are playing is to have fun, and I think sometimes that gets lost in the equation,” he says. “Often there’s a drive for scholarships or to get an outcome when the focus should be on enjoying the game, enjoying each other and having fun. Good things come from that.”
Already, both teams are serving as prime exhibits of what is possible for other Washington teams. In fact, Farrell may cite Eastside to his own players as an example of a club blazing a path for others to follow. And that’s a recurring theme for Seattle United 98 in a club that dates only to 2009.
As teenagers, they are already looked upon as legends by the club’s younger players.
“We do talk about legacies and doing something that people will remember,” Farrell says. “It’s a new club and as a team we’ve accomplished a lot of firsts for the club. And what could be more memorable than winning the National Championship?”
Seattle United 98 Regional Championship Highlights
Eastside FC 98 Regional Championship Highlights