After completing its fifth season this year, the US Youth Soccer National League has grown a reputation for collecting the most successful and competitive boys and girls teams in the country for a seven game, round robin competition with a berth in the National Championships on the line for the top performers. Through the first four years, National League qualifiers have won 13 of a possible 22 National Championships and compiled an overall record of 58 wins, 26 losses and 32 ties.
As an extension of teams’ US Youth Soccer Regional League schedules, competing in the National League has prepared teams to consistently compete at the highest level. This year 15 National League participants also went on to claim their Regional Championship, more than any previous year.
Under-16 Boys Michigan Jaguars 96 Green were National Championship runners-up in 2011, having qualified as National League division champions. In 2012, the Jaguars finished third in their National League division, but went on to win the Region II Championship to get back to Nationals. After two games in Rock Hill, Jaguars sit atop the group poised to return to the final match at 2-0.
"Playing here against Lehigh Valley, GSA Phoenix and the Scottsdale Blackhawks, it’s not a step up because these teams are in our season. So with the National League, you are prepared for these types of games," said Michigan Jaguars Head Coach Barry Scott. "The biggest thing we took from the National League is that it gave the boys the confidence, belief and the desire to compete."
"When we didn’t win the National League this year, they wanted to get back and they did through the National Championship Series. Playing that level of games in the National League prepares them better mentally and physically. The guys are used to playing at that level on a constant basis and we feel more prepared and confident that we can win games because of our experience in the National League."
With a total of 25 National League teams from the 2011-2012 season playing at the National Championships, there are plenty of familiar opponents in Rock Hill.
"I think seeing so many Regional Champions from the National League validates the league. It proves that the level in the National League is the same level as the National Championships, only that’s our season."
Under-16 Girls BRYC 95 Elite (VA) defeated CESA 95 Premier (SC) to earn a spot in the National final with a game to play in the preliminary round. BRYC finished a difficult National League season at the bottom of the table with two losses and five draws, both losses coming by one goal. BRYC has since gone on to win the Virginia State Cup, Region I Premier League and Region I Championship as they head to the National title game.
"We always look at the four components of the game; tactical, technical, mental and physical. We played well at times in the National League and we could have had a lot more points, but mentally it didn’t destroy us because we were in the middle of the season. In the spring, we got our rhythm, so the mental preparation of going down in some of those National League games was beneficial. The National League competition is what you want and you want to play those games," said BRYC Head Coach Larry Best.
"What I like about National League is you have to earn your way in into the league. You have to win State Cup and Regionals or National League to get here (the National Championships). That preparation is good for when they play in college. Mentally, I think the National League prepares them and I think it prepares them physically because you have to keep battling in those games. A lead in the National League is sometimes not enough, you have to keep battling."
Seven teams have already qualified for the National Championship game after just two days of play this year, five of which played in the National League this season. Those teams hope to add to the 13 total national championships league teams have claimed through the first four years.