The 2012 season was one filled with repeats for the Fullerton Rangers 96 White from Cal South.
The team became the first team to win back-to-back Dallas Cup Championships when they defeated Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt, 2-1, in the Under-15 Boys division. The Rangers followed up that performance by defeating Washington Premier FC 96 Black (WA), 1-0, to win the 2012 US Youth Soccer Region IV Championship.
To top things off, Fullerton won their second straight US Youth Soccer National Championship after defeating Challenger Crew Jr. Black (OH-S) 1-0. In 2011, Fullerton defeated Chicago Magic (IL), 1-0, to claim their first national championship.
But what is perhaps more impressive is the style in which they achieved this feat. In eight National Championship games, the Rangers have yet to concede a goal. Goalkeeper Keith Murphy takes some of the credit, but is also quick to deflect a lot to his teammates and coaches.
"Our back line is our team’s rock, and I do everything I can to keep the ball out of the net," Murphy said. "It’s pretty crazy to think we haven’t given up a goal in two years at nationals."
The Rangers were put to the test in March of 2012 when the Rangers faced off against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Dallas Cup finals. Frankfurt created plenty of buzz after defeating their first opponent 16-0 and ended up averaging almost eight goals a game. Murphy and Co. held their offensive juggernaut opponent to one goal while scoring two of their own. Murphy was forced to make an array of saves, including two diving saves in the span of mere seconds.
"We knew it would be tough," Murphy said. "They had a lot of chances that I had to deal with, but I was happy with my performance and my defense’s performance. Without them, Frankfurt would have had many more opportunities."
Fullerton cruised through the group stage of the 2012 Region IV Championship by scoring 13 goals and only conceding one. Fullerton then won the quarterfinals, semifinals and final by a score of 1-0. In the final, the Rangers needed an extra time goal to break the tie and advance to their second straight National Championships.
"It’s a ton of pressure playing in these close games with so much on the line," Murphy said. "But it is my job. I have to stay focused and keep my defense focused as well."
After successfully defending their regional championship, Fullerton set their sights on defending the national title at the 2012 US Youth Soccer National Championships in Rock Hill, S.C.
"The first time at nationals was a brand new adventure, and we didn’t really know what to expect," Murphy said. "To win for the first time was the greatest feeling in the world. To win the National Championship coming from Fullerton, Calif. was amazing."
Entering the 2012 National Championships, the Rangers were no longer just a team from Fullerton. They were the reigning champs, and had a target on their backs. If that wasn’t enough, the field increased from four teams to six with the addition of teams that qualified via the US Youth Soccer National League. Despite this, Fullerton started their first two games the way they did the previous year, with two 4-0 victories.
"The second time around we had an idea of what to expect," Murphy said. "We knew we had to play to our full potential because if we lost, we might not have a shot to make the finals."
Fullerton found themselves in the finals against their day one opponent: Challenger Crew Jrs. Black. Murphy explained that while Fullerton did defeat Crew 4-0 in their first game, the Rangers were going to be facing a different team.
"Challenger came out hard and made things difficult for us. It wasn’t much like the first game," Murphy said. "To win the second time around was even crazier. I couldn’t believe it."
This year Fullerton qualified to nationals in their first year playing in the National League. The Rangers tied GSA Phoenix 97 Red (GA) for first in the Blue division with five wins and two ties. Murphy was forced to miss the last three games after getting Infectious Mononucleosis (Mono) a couple weeks before.
"I was really bummed out when I was told I wouldn’t be able to play," Murphy said. "But I tried to help out the other keeper as much as possible, and I was really proud of him and our team for taking him in."
Despite being the back-to-back champions, Fullerton faces an uphill battle in their attempt to claim a third national title. The field now includes eight teams: four from National League, and four from the Region Championships.
Central Valley Mercury, Arsenal FC, Dallas Texans Red 88 and Real So Cal (So Cal United) are the only four teams to win three consecutive US Youth Soccer National Championships. The Fullerton Rangers will look to add their name to that prestigious list, a feat that Murphy can’t quite put to words.
"I can’t even imagine what it would be like," Murphy said. "We are the band of brothers. It would be amazing for me and my teammates."