Arsenal FC of Southern California claimed their first US Youth Soccer National Championship in 1992 and took home three more from a single team from 2004 to 2006. Arguably one of the best youth sides to ever play, only three other teams have won back-to-back-to-back National Championships. That Arsenal FC team fell in their fourth consecutive title game in 2007 as they tried to become the first team to ever win four straight National crowns.
The club has had two teams reach the National Championships since 2007, but neither could capture the title. Steve Lucey, Arsenal FC founder and Boys Director, who led the three-time National Championship side, is back at the National Championships as the team's coach for the first time since falling in their fourth straight final after his Under-16 Boys claimed the 2012 Region IV Championship.
"It’s awesome to be back at the National Championships. The first time you do it you think it’s a once in a lifetime shot. Then the team turns out to be one of the best teams I’ve ever seen and went back there four times and really, we were unfortunate not to win it the fourth time. You really don’t expect to find yourself in that situation because, I think for most people in youth soccer, you’ll be thrilled to get there just one time," said Lucey.
"This (2012) team has been a real pleasant surprise. We thought we’d do well at the Cal South (State) level, we were unfortunate not to win Cal South, then we go to Regionals and the team comes together at the right time and gets the results."
It hasn’t been an easy road for this year’s Under-16 Boys Arsenal FC team. The majority of the team was set to join Arsenal’s U-15/16 U.S. Soccer Development Academy team this season. But after learning that the USSDA’s SoCal Division was moving to a 10-month season a year early, preventing players from competing for their high school programs, the team decided to put off playing in the Academy to participate in high school soccer and have another run at the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series.
Arsenal fell short in the Cal South state final to West Coast FC, the team they then beat in the Region IV final after advancing thanks to a state wildcard. Once in Phoenix for the Regional tournament, Arsenal won every game by one goal.
"We had a plan at the club to still have a very competitive U-16 team, even though supposedly the top talent was playing academy. These boys that made that decision and enjoyed playing high school, advancing to the National Championships justifies that decision now."
As a club, Arsenal is proud to have a deep pool of talent to field quality teams at multiple age groups, "We’re quite proud that we’re an Academy club of US Soccer who had a very good U-16 Academy team and also produced a team in the same age group that’s now in the US Youth Soccer National finals. This U-16 team would have competed very well in the Academy and the players headed to South Carolina would have been huge assets. So I think it’s a testament of what we’re doing and we’re very proud that we have been able to compete at both."
"For me to have another opportunity to come back here is a great honor for me. There’s a lot of personal satisfaction that we can continue to do it with different sets of players. So, for us to be able to do that at the highest level, especially with the competition in Southern California; I’m proud."
The Arsenal team that earned a 3-peat certainly set an example for future players, but Lucey says it’s unfair to hold any team to that standard.
"Everyone in our club is very aware of that one team and the legacy they left. People talk about it all the time actually. Several of those players are playing in the MLS now. In fact, that team won’t be forgotten as far as our club is concerned for a long time. We were very proud of that team."
"This team is not as gifted as that team that won everything all those years but they do have great chemistry, great character, great determination to win and an ability to do it well. So there’s a good combination there. The team that won everything was just a very talented team. This team’s not as talented, but they’re very focused and very determined to do well and it’s a good bunch of boys."
"It’s definitely exciting but a little bit less pressure, but for those kids that chose to play on this team over academy to play another year of high school, it’s fantastic for them and obviously they feel they made the right decision. We’re very grateful and very thankful and we’re very proud of what we’ve done. We think it’s a huge accomplishment."
Arsenal will have an uphill battle to return to a National Championship game after falling 4-3 in their opening game to the 2011 National Championships runner-up, Michigan Jaguars. But with two games left, the team can still reach the final in hopes of playing for the club’s fifth National Championship.