On the climb to repeat as National Champions, 16U Boys Solar 02 Stricker (TX-N) took a big step on Wednesday.
The North Texas side secured a 3-0 win against Washington Premier 2002 Black (WA) in Group B action to secure a spot in the semifinals at the 2018 US Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas.
“We knew this would be a dog fight,” Solar coach Chris Stricker said. “We felt going into the tournament, we had the group of death with the level of teams in our group. It’s Nationals, so everybody is going to be great, but we watched Washington play at National League so we knew they are a tremendous team.”
That impression of Washington played out in the early minutes of Wednesday’s game, as Premier generated some early pressure and quality chances. Washington came close to an opening goal in the 20th minute, when Anthony Valdovinos played a low cross to Braeden Pryor, whose lunging attempt directed the ball just wide of the left post.
Solar absorbed the early threats and broke through in the 36th minute when Richard Garcia played in a long free kick that found its way through traffic before hitting the back of the net — helping the North Texas side grab control of the game after the early push from Washington.
“We always have the mindset of ‘next play’ and ‘next 10 minutes,’” Solar midfielder Grant McCarty said. “If something happens, we just come back, fight harder and try to get the next goal.”
Solar managed to double its lead midway through the second half when Harvey Castro sent in a corner kick, and Mason Monroe placed a perfect header off the inside of the back post and into the net.
Washington continued to create some chances as it looked to pull back a goal, but Christopher Edwards came up with some late saves to keep Solar’s two-goal advantage intact. Nicolas Nee later added a third a goal for Solar when he hammered a shot into the left side netting to seal the victory.
Stricker felt the game played out much closer than the final score indicated, and he said Washington had his team “on the ropes” for a while. However, he said his team’s willingness to prepare and watch film on opponents helped it overcome the challenges.
With the title of defending National Champions following the team around, combined with being the lone boys team from the host State Association of North Texas, Solar has a little added pressure in each game. But it’s using a true team effort to overcome any obstacles that arise.
“We’re having different people step up. We had completely different goal scorers today than yesterday,” Stricker said. “To have five different goal scorers in the tournament, in my opinion, is tremendous.
“It’s all about the team winning and not individual glory. If we can keep that going, it’s really going to help and we’ll be somebody to deal with.”