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Challenger works its way into McGuire Cup final


The Challenger Crew Jrs Gold 98 (OH-N) goal came from a connection that was 10 years in the making.

Chris Brennan used strength and speed to dart into the FC United (IL) penalty area, where he squared a ball to his right that was directed into the side-netting by Hayden Parente. It was the first of two tallies for Parente, as Challenger came away with a 2-1 semifinal win over the FC United to earn a place in the 19/20U Boys James P. McGuire Cup final at the 2017 US Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas.

Parente said it’s an unbelievable feeling to advance to the final — something he, Brennan and several of their teammates have been working toward since they started playing together at the club a decade ago.

“We started this club in 2007. Our goal was to make the National final,” Parente said. “Fortunately, we’ve hit it on our last year. We fell just short with six points last year, but it’s great to be back better than ever. We’re coming for the title.”

The Challenger midfielder said he saw Brennan beat his defender and knew his job was to make a run toward the ball and send it to the far post. He did just that and executed it perfectly to put his side up 1-0 in the 16th minute.  

While that early goal helped cap a quick start for the Ohio North side, the lead evaporated quickly. Just seconds after Parente’s shot rolled off the right post and into the net, the FC United players were celebrating on the other side of the field.

The Illinois side equalized in the 17th minute when a ball played in from the right side was headed across the face of goal. That’s where Jonathan Sanchez connected with a header of his own to power the ball into the back of the net and get FC United back in the game.

Challenger coach Oliver Condell said it’s important to stay focused for the full 90 minutes, since any team at this level can take advantage of the smallest chance.

“It’s a grind if you want to be the best team in the country,” Condell said. “There’s a mixture of tactics and techniques. Sometimes, you just need that lucky bounce or that lucky shot.

“Talent and all that takes you a long way, but work takes you farther.”

Challenger withstood the pressure from FC United throughout the second half and created a late opportunity when it earned a penalty kick in the 79th minute. Parente strode up to the penalty spot and hit his shot low and hard — beating the FC United keeper, who guessed the right way.

The Ohio North side made sure that goal held up, as it saw out the 2-1 victory. With just one game remaining in the tournament — and their youth soccer careers — Challenger knows it has a chance to make some history on Sunday.

“We fell short last year, and [earning a chance to play for the McGuire Cup] was the mission coming into this year,” Condell said. “We’ve done everything we’ve needed to do in youth soccer, so this is the last stop for us. These guys have spent the last nine years sacrificing for this, so it means the world.”