One hour. One hour. One hour.
Lehigh Valley United 2000 Black (PA-E) burst into celebration following its 2-0 win over two-time defending National Champion Baltimore Celtic SC 00 (MD), as it clinched a spot in the 19U Boys semifinal round at the 2019 US Youth Soccer National Championships, presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods.
But even in the joyous moments immediately after the final whistle, the LVU players were aware enough to remind each other: one hour.
That’s how long they would have to enjoy the win before refocusing on the next task. But for that next 60 minutes, LVU had the opportunity to celebrate a key Group B win over a familiar foe.
“We have massive respect for them,” LVU coach Mike Gorni said of Baltimore Celtic. “We haven’t actually played this year, which is strange because we’ve played so many times. The last time we played them, they beat us in penalties in the regional semi a year ago.”
The flow of Wednesday’s match shifted from end to end, as each team spent time in the attacking half for periods at a time. Baltimore began to gain an advantage in creating pressure, as it continued to earn corner kicks that would eventually accumulate into the double digits before the match ended.
However, LVU kept the Maryland side off the scoreboard and eventually broke through with an opening goal in the 63rd minute. Patrick Adams played a driven cross into the box from the right wing, and Carter Houlihan did well to chest it down in traffic and slip a shot past the Celtic keeper.
“The match was back and forth pretty much the entire time before that goal,” Houlihan said. “It was the best feeling ever. This is my first year on the team. Scoring a goal like that to hopefully secure a spot into the next round is the best feeling ever. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Baltimore continued to apply pressure as it looked for an equalizer, and it threw everyone forward on a late corner kick in an effort to produce a tying goal. However, LVU cleared the danger and sent three unmarked players toward the Celtic goal. Reed Sturza carried the ball in from midfield before squaring it to Luke McMahon, who used his first touch to finish LVU’s second goal of the game — sealing the win.
The victory capped a stretch of games for LVU against FC Golden State White (CA-S) and Celtic that Gorni said sticks out as difficult, even among the strong field of teams at the National Championships in Overland Park, Kan.
“The boys are playing really well right now. At this time of year, you’ve got to peak at the right time,” Gorni said. “We hope that we are gaining strength each game and getting a bit better. Winning the bracket is one thing, but you’ve still got to turn around and whoever is left on Saturday and Sunday has to produce, as well.”
Gorni has firsthand experience of what can happen when a team performs well from start to finish at the Scheels Overland Park Soccer Complex. After the game, he pointed to the field where — six years ago — LVU lifted the McGuire Cup as 19U Boys Champions. Inside the neighboring fieldhouse, a framed glass case holding an LVU and Chicago Fire jersey hangs as a reminder of the Eastern Pennsylvania side’s victory.
Gorni and his team have talked about that 2013 McGuire Cup title and have used it as part of their positive approach for this week in Overland Park. They have asked themselves, “If our 19s won it here the last time it was here, why not us this year?”
But Houlihan said the players aren’t getting too far ahead of themselves. Before they can think about adding their jersey to another glass case in the fieldhouse, they’re going to simply enjoy Wednesday’s victory against a tough familiar opponent.
Just for one hour. One hour. One hour?
“I’ll probably give them two,” Gorni said, “because it’s Celtic.”