Grand Rapids Crew Jrs (MI) aren’t new to the national stage. For the fifth time they are competing at the US Youth Soccer National Championships. However, for the first time they are competing as the defending national champions.
Grand Rapids’ opening day opponent, Players SC 94 (NV), is making their first appearance at the US Youth Soccer National Championships. Players SC came out with loads of energy and early high intensity pressure led to a Grand Rapids turn over in their own end of the field. Players SC’s Ruben Duran took advantage; dribbling the ball up the middle and slotting a beautiful shot past the Crew Jrs keeper for a 1-0 lead in the 8th minute. Grand Rapids would effectively slow down the pace of the game and leveled the score in the 16th minute. A Sean Conerty free kick from 19 yards out deflected through the wall and into the bottom right corner to equalize.
"We came out slow but we were able to find our pace," said Conerty, 2011 Golden Ball winner. "They’re the best team we’ve seen all year. We’ve got to do the same thing every time. It’s going to be difficult but we’ll do our thing and get the win."
Just before halftime, a Nevada player was sent off and the landscape of the game changed. Grand Rapids Crew Jrs used their man advantage to find an early second half goal. Taylor Mazurek pressed the ball up from the back and played a beautiful pass across to a streaking Nate Rose. Rose would score the game winner, chipping the ball over a sliding Players keeper.
"They played very well by moving the ball and opening up the field," said Players SC 94 head coach Saeed Bonabian. "We need to get more possession of the ball."
Later in the game, two Grand Rapids Crew Jrs players and another Players SC player would receive red cards, leaving only nine players on the field for each side.
"It got a little out of hand at the end," said Grand Rapids Crew Jrs head coach Lewis Robinson. "We’re definitely going to be kicking ourselves for the stupid red cards. We got the result though, and in the end that’s what we’re here for."
The intensity level of the 2012 US Youth Soccer National Championships was evident from opening kick-off. More of the same will be seen during the tournament as each of these teams battle to win the National Championship and to hoist the U-18 Boys US Youth Soccer Cup.