After losing its first game at the 2017 National Championships, Tampa Bay United (FL) bounced back to win four straight games to claim the 16U Boys US Youth Soccer National Championship crown. The Florida side is now back and hoping to repeat last year’s success.
It was a long road for Tampa Bay United on its path to the 2017 National Championships. In the team’s 13U and 14U years, the team just missed out on trips to Nationals as it lost in close games in both the Southern Regional Championships final and then the semifinals the following year – both to the same team.
Tampa made its return to Regionals in 2017 and used it as its launch pad to the National Championships. The Florida side won five consecutive games to advance to the final where it defeated Solar 01 Sawyer (TX-N), 4-0, to punch its ticket to the National Championships.
“After getting back to Regionals, we all thought about how it felt the last two trips,” Tampa Bay United forward Brennan Breuer said. “We lost to the same team two years in a row and when we made it back to Regionals we weren’t sure how far we’d make it but we were confident in our abilities and knew we could make it happen.”
It is a long process to make it to the National Championships, let alone Regionals. By the time teams make it out of State Cup, they are either worn down or battle tested.
Three of Tampa Bay United keys to success have been: love to train, play your hardest and put the team first.
Love of training is something that Tampa Bay United head coach Kelvin Jones said sets his team apart and keeps them going through the rigors of the National Championship Series.
“This group of boys loves to come to the field and work their socks off during training and then they’ll go home and come back and do it all again the next day,” Jones said. “The standard for the team has been set and because they love to train and will get to the field on their own, we don’t have to worry about them not being at the fields as there is no compromise with this group.”
After winning Florida State Cup and Regionals, Tampa Bay finally headed to the US Youth Soccer National Championships where it lost its first match, 2-1, to CUP Gold 01 (OH-S) after going up early in the first half.
“We felt like we belonged at Nationals but, after having not lost in a while and then losing our first game to CUP, it was really gut wrenching and a soul searching loss for us,” Jones said. “We got back to the hotel and came to an understanding that the next game was essentially the national championship game for us. If we lost the next game or tied, we were going home. From then on out, we played every game as if it were the national championship final.”
Tampa Bay ended up winning its next three matches – by just one goal each – to pave its way into the National Championship final match against WCFC Armour 2001 (CA-S).
“Pressure is a privilege and only the best ones get to play the biggest games where the pressure is,” Jones said. “We talk about pressure all the time and let it flow over us and so the boys are fine in pressure. We feel like we prepare enough because of all of our training. Mental toughness comes from preparation. If you’re prepared, you’re going to give it everything that you’ve got.”
After a scoreless first half against WCFC Armour, the back-and-forth play continued until the deadlock finally broke in the 79th minute of play. Tampa Bay earned a corner kick and Robert Soronellas whipped a ball in and found Nicholas Scargle. Scargle rose up above the West Coast defense to knock in his chance for the game winning goal.
“I really had no better feeling in the world than that moment in time,” Tampa Bay captain Jack Casey said. “We knew we had won it and the feeling carries on for hours and hours.”
The feeling was mutual among all the players as the celebration carried on all the way back to Florida.
“It was a surreal feeling and something that you’d see out of a movie,” Breuer said. “An eightieth minute goal that causes us to win the National Championship. When the whistle blew and all the parents were running onto the field, it was one of the best moments in the entire world.”
After winning the 16U Boys National Championship, Tampa Bay punched its ticket back to Nationals after winning the US Youth Soccer National League Black Division with a 4-0-2 record. In true Tampa Bay fashion, each game was close as Tampa Bay advanced with just one point more than the second place team.
Knowing that the team will have a target on its back as the defending National Champions, Tampa Bay has been training extra hard to prepare for what is to come.
“We have a new mindset coming into every game—that every team we play is now preparing to play against a National Champion and they’re going to give they’re all and try that much harder against us,” Casey said. “We make sure we match that intensity and put all the prior experiences behind us and focus on the game at hand.”
Not many teams get the opportunity to win or even compete for a National Championship, so Tampa Bay feels fortunate to have this chance to defend its title.
“We feel blessed to play for another US Youth Soccer National Championship,” Jones said. “We’re humble about the opportunity and so now we have to go and dig even deeper than we did last time. We have to train harder and be more prepared as all the teams we will face will be feeling the same way we feel about a chance at the National Championship title. It’s a wonderful stage and the competition level is very high.”
So what sets apart this Tampa Bay team from the competition as it competes for a second straight National Championship crown?
“Confidence and preparation,” Casey said. “Our team knows the level we play at and we feel like we’ve earned respect from other teams for the work and dedication we have put in. We’re always hungry for more and what better tournament to show your talent at than the US Youth Soccer National Championships.”