For most young soccer players, scoring the game-winning goal in the finals of the US Youth Soccer National Championship game would rank pretty high on their list of aspirations.
For Peyton Perea of Legends FC in Southern California, this dream became a reality in the finals of the 2012 US Youth Soccer National Championships in Rock Hill, S.C., when in the 64th minute her teammate redirected a ball into the box off a free-kick and Perea struck it home.
"It was probably the most amazing thing that has happened to me in my life," Perea said. "It was definitely something I will never forget."
Legends would go onto win the Under-15 Girls final 1-0, a score which the team was all too familiar with. While Perea was most known for her scoring heroics in the final game, her and her team’s staple is defense, and as the team’s defensive midfielder, Perea is an integral part to a group that won three games by a 1-0 score at the National Championships.
"Our defense is definitely one of our major strengths. Our back line is very disciplined and we are strong mentally and physically," Perea said. "It starts with the forwards helping out as well, and when we get that first goal, it focuses us even more."
Legends FC’s journey to the National Championships started with their first trip to the US Youth Soccer National League. Legends won six games and tied another en route to a first place finish in the Red Division, and a ticket to the National Championships. Legends scored 18 goals and only surrendered three in the seven games.
"That was our first time playing in the National League. So we really didn’t know what to expect," Perea said. "It’s always a tough road to get to Nationals. So we were more determined to get first place and qualify right away."
Perea is quick to point out that while Legends FC was heading into the 2012 US Youth Soccer Region IV Championships already qualified for the National Championships, the team’s manner didn’t change in the slightest. Legends cruised through the group stage, as the team shut out their three opponents and scored 10 goals. However in the quarterfinals, Legends fell to Pride Predators 97 (CO) 1-0.
"We weren’t happy with losing, but we saw Regionals as preparation for Nationals," Perea said. "We were proud of our performance and were just trying to get better for Nationals."
Legends FC defeated the Region IV champion, MVLA Mercury Black (CA-N) in their first game at Nationals and tied the other National League champion, Kings Soccer Academy (OH-S), 0-0 in the second game. This set up a win or go home scenario against their third opponent, Internationals 96 Red (OH-N). Legends won 1-0 to set up a rematch against Kings, who went a perfect 7-0 in the other National League division while boasting a 17-1 goal differential.
"I wouldn’t have considered us rivals, but rather it was two powerhouse teams facing off against each other in the finals," Perea said. "We knew how they played, and they knew how we played. Both teams fought hard. It was a battle."
After Perea ended the stalemate, Legends found themselves in a familiar situation: defending a 1-0 lead.
"After I scored, I didn’t think it was real. All I could do was ask myself, ‘Is this really happening?’" Perea said. "But as soon as the whistle blew to resume play, we all calmed down. There was still time and we knew we had to stay strong until the end."
Legends FC did just that as they held off Kings to win the club’s first National Championship.
"I immediately balled my eyes out," Perea said. "It was so surreal. We all wanted it so bad, and the fact that we were able to win this as a team and overcome all the adversity made it that much sweeter. I will never forget it."
Perea’s success doesn’t stop there. Perea played two matches with the Under-17 Women’s National Team against Germany in early 2013. Perea came off the bench in the first match, and started the second as both matches ended in draws. Perea is also considered one of the top recruits for players graduating in 2015, and she has committed to play at Wake Forest University.
"I’m very thankful and blessed to say I am a part of the U.S. National Teams, and I definitely hope to continue playing with the National Team in the future," Perea said. "It was the experience of a lifetime. I was living my dream."
Legends FC qualified to the 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championships again via the National League when they placed second in the Red Division. Legends also won their first US Youth Soccer Region IV Championship this year in Honolulu. While Perea is proud of those achievements, she is anxious for Legends FC to defend its title.
"Even now a year later I still can’t believe we won it. We are going 100 miles per hour in practice so we can feel those emotions again," Perea said. "We know we will have a target on our back as the defending champs, and since it is Nationals we know we are going to be playing against the top teams in the country. I love saying I’m a National Champion, and I want to keep saying it."