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US Youth Nationals - Top teams gather in Frisco

Published 7/25/2007 12:34:18 AM by staff from topdrawersoccer
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FRISCO, TEXAS - In the midst of a hot Texas summer, 48 teams have gathered here in search of the biggest prize in American youth soccer.

While this year's version of the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships will be vigorously contested as always, it also is held against a backdrop of change in the elite youth game that calls into question just what this event will mean in the grand scope of things as the game in this country continues to progress.

One change is already certain, next year there will be at least 2 more teams in each age group at this event as U.S. Youth Soccer begins its new national league, with 2 spots in the championships per age group being offered as the carrot in return for participation. The organization has already announced its participants for the inaugural national league, beginning in the fall, and already an impressive list of clubs has entered.

But another list of clubs has potentially a greater effect on this event. Forty-seven clubs have enrolled in the new U.S. Soccer Federation Academy and its accompanying Academy league for U16 and U18 teams. Leaving aside the debate over the value of the training program and match schedule for that operation, the Federation's insistence that participants in the Academy not participate in other competitions such as nationals is sure to give this event a different look and/or feel next year.

But for this year, there are 48 teams eager to grab the big prize.

Story Lines Aplenty

One main story line is in the U18 Boys division where Steve Lucey's Southern Californian side Arsenal FC will attempt to win an unprecedented 4th national championship. This team has already cemented a permanent legacy in the elite youth game, but part of the reason why that's not enough for them is part of why they have to be considered favorites to 4-peat: this team wants to win everything.

None of which will matter to Atlanta Fire, New York champions Terryville Fire or Omaha club NFC Bluejays, all of whom showed resilience of their own in winning their respective regional titles.

The only other team with a chance to repeat is Alberto Bru's Real So Cal U16 Boys side, 2-time defending champions in their age group. That team took a tumble in the always-difficult Cal South State Cup, but managed to win the new Far West Regioal League and then shook off an opening day draw at the Region IV Championships to win the regional title again.

Real's bracket is absolutely loaded, with Houstonians having put on a show at Region III, and Michigan Wolves and FC DELCO Hammerheads having established themselves as top teams in the age group for a few years now.

On the girls side, the U17 bracket includes Eagles SC from Camarillo, CA, the national champions at U14. Eagles have mounted an impressive string of results to get back to the big dance, but teams from Dallas Texans, Michigan Hawks and Richmond Strikers won't be feeling very sentimental toward the California side.

In U18 play, Kaz Tambi's perpetually U18 team, Arsenal World Class, are coming off a thrilling overtime win over in-state rivals PDA at the Region I final, and now face a loaded bracket of their own in defensive stalwarts Slammers FC, high-powered Bloomfield Force and perhaps the event's Cinderella story, Solar SC from Dallas (ignore that team at your own peril, by the way). All these and more will be played out beginning Wednesday morning at Pizza Hut Park.

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