After a brief hiatus from the US Youth Soccer National Championships last year, So Cal Blues Dodge have returned in the Under-19 Girls age group in hopes of hoisting the National Championship trophy for a second, and final time.
The Blues won the 2010 US Youth Soccer National Championship after reaching the finals in 2008 and coming in third place in 2009. The Blues qualified to Nationals via the National League in 2008 and 2010, and claimed the Region IV Championship in 2009. In 2011, the Blues found themselves in an unfamiliar situation when they lost in the semifinals of the 2011 Region IV Championship against Real So Cal White, 2-1. The loss ended all hope of defending their title and returning to Nationals for a fourth straight time.
"We are very proud of these kids. We had an unfortunate incident happen last year where we didn’t make it to the regional final," head coach Randy Dodge said. "So it’s great to have these kids go back to Nationals for a fourth time."
It wasn’t exactly easy for the Blues to qualify for their fourth trip. So Cal won each of their three Region IV Championships preliminary games by a score of 1-0. After grinding out their first three games, the Blues won both their quarterfinal and semifinal matches 2-0 and defeated Pride Predators 93 in the finals, 3-1, to punch their ticket to the National Championships.
"We are so blessed to have the opportunity to get back together for one more run at the National Championship," defender Courtney Assuma said. "For us to get one more ring and help get some girls their first ring, it would mean the world. It would be a great way to end our club career.
The Blues will be without key players Lauren Bohaboy, Autumn Altamirano and Jamia Fields due to their respective college soccer teams beginning camp that weekend. Bohaboy tied for the most goals scored in the 2010 National Championships, Altamirano started every game for the University of Southern California last year and Fields was a member of the All-ACC Freshman team at Florida State University. All three of them were attackers for the Blues.
"It’s disappointing because they are a big part of our team. We have a couple of players in our club like Erica Mazeau, Jessica White and Kelly Fitzgerald who are stepping up and are attacking players," Dodge said. "We are great defensively and were able to grind out 1-0 wins at Regionals because Autumn didn’t join us until the knockout stage."
But at the end of the day, the Blues will rely on their stout defense to come up big and keep them in games. The backline and goalkeeper positions have been the staple of the Blues soccer team over the last five years.
"Our back line has been together for a long time, and as a result we barely need to communicate, because we know where the others are going to be," defender Kim Marshall said. "We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which makes it easier to read the situation."
Among those who are stepping up for the club is Erica Okuma. Okuma is on Dodge’s Under-15 team and will be playing against girls who are four or five years older than her.
"We feel that physically she can handle it. She is strong as a front runner and is very capable of helping us out here," Dodge said. "She has great speed and can handle the physicality. She is one of the top players in the 2015 class, and with only 14 girls on our Nationals roster, she is definitely going to play."
The Blues have the most National Championship experience among the four U-19 Girls participants, and adding a second National Championship would make them one of the most decorated teams in recent history.
"It would be a tremendous achievement for this group to win the National Championship again, Dodge said. "We have been to four Nationals, and for us to be able to win the sixth title for our club would be a crowning jewel in these players’ club careers."