Throughout four seasons, the US Youth Soccer National League has built a history full of distinction and success, showcasing the nation's top teams in the Under-15, 16 and 17 Boys and Girls age groups. Games have become known for holding great meaning, elevating the level of competitiveness brought to the field as teams know each match could make or break their qualification to the nation's most prestigious youth sporting event, the US Youth Soccer National Championships.
For elite-level teams, the National League is an extension of the highly successful US Youth Soccer Regional Leagues - Region I (East) Premier League, Midwest Regional League, Region III (South) Premier League and Far West Regional League.
Just as teams earn their way through state and regional play in the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series, teams in the league earn their way through their respective regional league to the National League and into the National Championships.
During the first two years, National League teams notched eight of 10 possible National titles. Last year, only one National League qualifier captured a National crown, So Cal Blues Dodge (CA-S) in the Under-17 Girls. However, the Under-15 Boys champion, Baltimore Bays Chelsea (MD), were fifth place finishers during the National League season but advanced to win a National Championship through the National Championship Series, demonstrating the competitiveness of the National League. This year, six of the 12 teams are returning to Nationals for a second time, and all look to capture the ultimate crown in youth sports.
The League kicked off the five-weekend schedule in November 2010 and wrapped up in February in Las Vegas. The five National League weekends were held in conjunction with the CASL National Soccer Series, Weston Cup, Disney Soccer Showcase, NCAA Women's College Cup and Las Vegas Player's Showcase and, with some of the nation's top teams competing, each weekend of League play provided key recruiting and scouting opportunities for college coaches seeking future impact players.
Although four teams wrapped up division titles before the final weekend of play, most of the excitement came down to the final day of play in Las Vegas as half the division titles were decided on the last day of the season.
SAC United Premier (MD) solidified their top-two finish in the Under-15 Girls by turning in a 5-0-2 record after Orlando, and will be returning to Nationals after claiming the 2010 Region I Championship and just missing out on a spot in last year's National final. Match Fit Chelsea Beat (NJ) outlasted three other challengers in the final weekend to take the second spot, giving SAC the division title.
Both Under-15 Boys divisions came down to the last day of the season, with FC Dallas Premier (N-TX) putting in a solid performance to claim the Blue division by taking down Scottsdale 96 Blackhawks (AZ) 2-0. The only blemish on FC Dallas' record was a 0-0 draw on the second to last day of the season.
The Michigan Jaguars faced Classics Eagles Red (OH-S) on the final day to decide the Red division. Jaguars left no doubt as they dispatched Classics 4-0 for the championship and the club's first trip to the National Championships.
In one of the more dramatic finishes in National League history, Dallas Texans 95 Red (N-TX) claimed back-to-back National League championships, taking the Under-16 Girls Blue. On the final day of the season, So Cal Blues Draluck (CA-S) needed a victory against Albion SC (CA-S) to overtake the Texans. After scoring the go-ahead goal with five minutes to play, So Cal conceded the tying goal two minutes into stoppage time, giving the title to the Texans.
Hurricane FC 95 Shubert (OK) turned in a perfect record to take the Under-16 Girls Red division. Hurricane will make their first trip to Nationals after losing 1-0 in the Region III Championship last year to the eventual national champion, Sting 95 (N-TX).
After losing in overtime of the 2010 National Championship to Baltimore Bays Chelsea (MD), Albion White (CA-S) will return after winning back-to-back National League titles with the Under-16 Boys Blue championship. Needing at least a draw in the final game, Ariel Lassiter scored his league-best ninth goal to take down Eastside FC 94 Red (WA) and deliver the repeat title.
Concorde Fire Elite (GA) went 0-3 at last year's National Championships as Region III champions, but they will get another chance after becoming the first team of the year to clinch their division, taking the Under-16 Boys Red championship after their first game in Weston.
Both Under-17 Girls divisions were locked up after Orlando. St. Louis Scott Gallagher (MO) held off last year's National League champion, NASA 12 Elite II (GA), to take the Under-17 Girls Blue title.
After finishing second last year, NSA Premier Fury (IL) finished 6-0-1 to claim the Under-17 Girls Red. NSA was the 2010 Region II champion and missed their spot in the National Championship game by just one point and without a loss.
TSC 94 Black (OK) wrapped up the Under-17 Boys Blue in Weston, going unbeaten at 5-0-2, and will make their first trip to the National Championships.
Having finished play in Weston, Dallas Texans Red (N-TX) claimed the Under-17 Boys Red after Rush Nike Argonauts (NM) failed to keep pace in Vegas. The Texans took the championship despite scoring just eight goals in seven games.
The 12 National League teams stepping onto the field at the 2011 National Championships are prepared to compete against the nation's best from each of the four US Youth Soccer Regions as they have scathed a league slate of the top teams from around the country.
The National League claimed one national title in 2010. What will the desert heat hold for the best of the National League in 2011?