FCW 14’s experience success and huge comeback to win 2 of 3 at National Championships
From July 13th – July 18th, the FC Wisconsin U14 team traveled to Colorado after qualifying to play for a Youth National Championship.
In order to qualify the team had to win their league and then win the Midwest Regionals to qualify for Nationals. They went undefeated in league play over the course of the year, and then won their Midwest Regional over Sockers FC, Columbus Crew, and Vardar Soccer Club.
The team would depart from Milwaukee on the 13th and arrive at the team hotel to prepare for the week ahead. The team was placed in a group of six matched up against GPS Orlando, GPS Massachusetts (the reigning National Champions), and FC Boulder.
With a fairly intense camp leading into the National Championships, including two-a-day training sessions the group was confident and prepared.
The atmosphere, the fields, the facilities, the grass, the administration and the organization of the event was first class and professional with tents, benches, Gatorade, water, protein bars and trainers for every field. “Being around the best teams in the nation was already a privilege. We competed hard and experienced what it was like to be in that kind of atmosphere. It was an experience in which we all came together and worked for each other. I can’t wait to start to work to get there again next year” said Center Mid/Center Back, Nolan Rehard.
The first game opened up with some nerves as GPS Orlando pressed with high energy and intensity. After the first 8 minutes, FCW would settle in, passing and keeping possession to take hold of the game. “We prepared for these Championships by continuing to look to possess the ball under pressure. We knew going to Colorado to play in the higher altitude would be difficult and if we chased the game all day, we would not be successful. We worked tirelessly in camp on our spacing and possession with some technical work and a little extra fitness. The camp proved to really have the boys prepared, confident and ready to play a possession oriented game. This set the tone going into the first game and the spacing would help deal with early pressure” said Co-DOC Ben Shepherd.
The first goal came on a serve from Neico Caiani into the box where Collin Bjerke would head it home. After creating several other opportunities, it was then disappointing that GPS Orlando would tie the game on a corner kick just before the end of the half. Early in the second half as the team connected several passes and built possession up the field, Bjerke found Colin Satchie who would be taken down in the box for a penalty. Captain Erich Legut would step up and bury it, to make the game 2-1. The team would continue to put together some great moments of passing and rhythm that would lead to Satchie dribbling across the top of the box playing a reverse pass to a running Bjerke, who bury the third goal at the near post. The last goal came from a counter attack as GPS was pushing to try and get a goal. FC Wisconsin would find a streaking Draza Kolpak who took his first touch to get behind his defender and would find three defenders sprinting to catch him to block the shot, Kolpak would rocket a left footer past the diving keeper to put the game away. “It was a good start for us once we settled in and connected some passes. Our spacing and rhythm got better with the game and our energy in the second half to pressure the ball was a big difference maker. We took advantage of big moments, and in big games that’s the difference maker” said Co-DOC Billy Solberg.
The second game did not go as well for the group. Playing the defending National Champion from the 2015-2016 season, GPS Massachusetts was motivated and desperate for some points to keep them in contention for the semi’s. FCW would come out and create multiple big chances that were narrowly missed or hit the post. After the first 10 minutes of quality chances to get on the board, the group went a little bit flat and had to deal with several balls being played in behind the back line. Both teams would get to half time tied at 0-0. The second half saw GPS Mass take advantage of two set pieces and go ahead 2-0. Despite a push, to get one back, the game would end 2-0. “After starting really well, we kind of went flat and found it difficult to find rhythm. We didn’t take care of our big moments in the first 10 minutes and it added a little pressure to the boys. We weren’t as patient and composed as we were in the previous match” said Solberg.
After each and every game, the group would go through pool recovery sessions, team meals, team meetings, and a jog and stretch each morning with a scouting report of the next game.
The last game would be the most demanding and most exciting game of the journey. FCW would face off against FC Boulder who had already beat Anaheim PDA 6-0 and RPSC River 3-0. Knowing they had to get 3 points to have a chance to go through to the semifinals, FCW would find itself somewhat against the run of play down 2-0 with just 15 minutes to play. “We felt as soon as we get the first goal, we could get the second and third. We kept telling the boys to play with urgency but not to panic. Take advantage of the next big moment. Concentrate on connecting passes and get the first goal and then we can push for the second” said Shepherd.
Satchie once again found himself weaving through defenders and got inside the box to try and get a shot off, before he could do so, he was taken down from behind to draw yet another penalty. Legut would once again step up and bury it in the upper right corner of the goal to get the first goal. The game just got more interesting. Minutes later Bjerke would pick the ball up, leave the defenders behind with a step over and drive a shot to the far post to tie the game. The boys, the fans, and the coaches felt the game changing. The boys would continue to push, play with urgency, confidence and a belief that they would find a way to win the game. With two minutes remaining in regulation Legut would serve the ball into the box from around 35 yards out. The boys competing for the header, it would fall to Bjerke who blasted it in the back of net! FC Boulder would throw numbers forward to try to equalize but it wasn’t their day. FCW would take the match 3-2. “We all were so proud of the boys, their commitment to each other and their belief in each other to pull this out. The theme we talked about all week was taking advantage of big moments, this game magnified that and we took care of those moments” echoed Solberg and Shepherd.
“The opportunity to go to a National Championship was an amazing experience for us. It put all of us to the test to measure how good we actually are on the National level. The atmosphere consisted of great competition and professionalism throughout all the teams. One of the best seasons I’ve ever had making it to the top level competition. The goal is to make back, make another run for the cup and earn a star for the best club around” said Captain Erich Legut.
The team would find themselves in a four way tie for first place in their bracket. They would narrowly lose out on goal differential and not make the semi’s.
“As badly as we wanted to play the next day, we couldn’t be more proud of the boys and the club. We need to thank all the parents for their support and we need to thank all the coaches that help develop this group throughout the year. Within our Collaborative Coaching model, we thank coaches Jeff Holtebeck, Jaime Bladen, Brent Behnke, Marty Lataille, Josh Rohde, Joey Marasco, and Kevin Brennan. We all will continue to develop our players to hopefully give more of them the same experience our 14’s had in Colorado” said Shepherd.
The U14 team members for the National Championship are: Austin Holtebeck, Nolan Rehard, Diego Garcia, Lucas Amaya, Draza Kolpack, Jacob Smitsdorff, Andrew Mitchell, Luke Thew, Colin Satchie, Collin Bjerke, Neico Caiani, Brendan Shiroda, Sam Keehan, Santi Davila, Cayden Carlson, Tyler McMahon, Erich Legut, and Mariano Molina.