Special to The Sun
The US Youth Soccer Region III (South) Championships, presented by the National Guard, came to an inspiring conclusion Thursday, with nine teams claiming titles. Not only will the nine teams leave as Regional champions, but they join the five previous title winners in securing a most desired berth to the US Youth Soccer National Championships July 22-28 in Overland Park, Kan.
The Region III Championships were highly competitive all the way down to the final kick of the tournament, which came in a penalty kick shootout in the Under-17 Boys final. Triangle United SA Gold (N.C.) and West Pines Strikers (Fla.) played to a scoreless draw in regulation and overtime, and needed penalties to decide the champion. After each team made four of its first five attempts, TUSA’s Michael Barrell put his team in position to win by converting his kick from the spot. TUSA keeper Justus Heizer dove to his right to stop West Pines’ next attempt, giving his squad the win and Under-17 boys title.
The win marked TUSA’s third consecutive penalty kick shootout victory. TUSA head coach Billy Englishby said it was a challenge with each game being played so tightly, but his team stuck together and played at the high level necessary to win a Region III Championship.
“Anytime you come to Regionals and you’re playing in the final, the competition is always going to be good,” Englishby said. “I thought the Florida team, West Pines, did a fantastic job. They made it difficult in spots for us. We really needed to take a disciplined approach and make sure we were aware of our individual tasks and be able to perform at this level.”
Some highlights from the rest of Thursday’s finals…
Solar Chelsea Red 99 (N. Texas) will be heading to the National Championships after defeating Texas Rush 99-Prep (S. Texas) in the Under-14 boys final. Javier Leija opened the scoring in the 11th minute and the game remained tight until Gage Ott put Solar up 2-0 in the 51st minute. Victor Garcia added a goal in the final minutes to help Solar to the 3-0 win and the Under-14 boys title.
In a dramatic finish, Tophat 17 Gold (Ga.) defeated Tulsa Blitz 99 White, 1-0, in the Under-14 girls final. With the game scoreless midway through the second half, Tulsa’s Nayeli Perez nearly gave her team the lead when she cut to the right of a defender and had her shot deflected off the crossbar.
Tophat withstood the pressure from Tulsa and scored a game-winner in the final minute when Emma Kurtz drilled a low shot from the top of the box that beat the keeper. While Tophat enjoyed the Under-14 girls title, it was a tough ending for Tulsa, which also lost in last year’s final.
Sunrise Elite 97/98 (Fla.) capped a strong tournament with a 3-0 win over FC Dallas 98 Premier (N. Texas) in the Under-15 boys final. Emmanuel Perez put Sunrise up early with an 8th-minute goal and Lucas Deoliveira made it 2-0 with a strike in the 17th minute.
Donald Emerson added the third and final goal for Sunrise in the 56th minute, as the Florida side won its second straight Region III Championship. Sunrise will now look to claim the National Championship after finishing as runners-up in 2012. Because Sunrise has qualified for the National Championships by winning its division in the US Youth Soccer National League, FC Dallas 98 will continue on to Overland Park, Kan. as Region III representatives.
Tennessee SC 16 successfully defended its Region III title, as it defeated Tampa Bay United 97 Premier (Fla.), 3-1, in the Under-15 girls final. Tennessee’s Danielle Marcano put her side up in the 25th minute, but TBU’s Elaina Laxer responded with an equalizer four minutes later to send the game to halftime tied at 1.
Tennessee regained the lead shortly after halftime when Maddison Falter volleyed a cross from Anna Green past the goalkeeper. Marcano added a second goal to cap the 3-1 win and give her team its second-straight Region III title.
After finishing as the runner-up last year, GSA Phoenix 97 Red (Ga.) returned to the championship game to take on NASA B15 Elite (Ga.) in the Under-16 boys final. GSA’s Joseph Efford put his team in front in the 5th minute after he beat a trio of defenders and fired the ball low and hard past the keeper.
GSA doubled the lead in the 28th minute on a Shadrack Nsukami strike and went on to win, 2-0.
It was a defensive battle in the Under-16 Girls final between 97 Louisiana Fire Navy (La.) and 97 FC Alliance Black (Tenn.). Both teams posed threats offensively, but couldn’t break through the opposition’s back line. In the final minutes, the Fire had a free kick in a dangerous position, but the attempt went over the crossbar and the game headed to the extra period in a scoreless tie.
In the 103rd minute, the Fire’s Kielli Jordan had her shot cleared off the line by an Alliance defender. The ball then bounced off the post right to the feet of Eleanor Pratt, who drilled home the game-winner. The 1-0 overtime win gave Louisiana Fire the Region III Championship after falling in the knockout rounds the last two years.
After they each won tightly-contested semifinal games, AHFC 96 (S. Texas) and Tampa Bay United U-17 Premier (Fla.) found themselves in a similar contest in the Under-17 girls final.
AHFC broke through in the 13th minute Angelica Grayson found the back of the net to give her team the early advantage. Despite pressure by both offenses, neither side could change the score as AHFC took the title. It was a rewarding finish for the Texas side, which worked hard to get this chance after falling in the semifinals a year ago.
Team Boca (Fla.) threatened the goal of 95 Lions White (S. Texas) for the length of the first half in the Under-18 boys final, but the Lions’ defense held strong to keep the game scoreless at halftime. Boca finally broke through in the 48th minute when Hunter Pritchard got the opening goal. Pritchard later added his second goal and Yaincy Gutierrez also found the back of the net twice, as Boca won 4-0 to claim the Under-18 boys title.
2013 US Youth Soccer Region III (South) Champions
Liverpool 00 Elite (TX-N)
United FA 00 Elite (GA)
Tophat 17 Gold (GA)
Solar Chelsea Red 99 (TX-N)
Tennessee SC 16 (TN)
Sunrise Elite 97/98 (FL)
97 Louisiana Fire Navy (LA)
GSA Phoenix 97 Red (GA)
AHFC 96 (TX-S)
Triangle United SA Gold (NC)
Oklahoma FC 96 (OK)
Team Boca (FL)
NASA 12 Elite II (GA)
Plantation Copa (FL)
Championship Game Final Scores...
Oklahoma Football Club 00
The US Youth Soccer National Championships will consist of US Youth Soccer Regional Champions in the Under-13 through Under-19 boys and girls age groups, as well as the US Youth Soccer National League qualifiers in the Under-15 through Under-18 boys and girls age groups to complete the field of 88 teams.