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Rangers set for title defense against Challenger

The Fullerton Rangers (CA-S) will look to become the fourth team in the last ten years to start their US Youth Soccer National Championships career with Under-14 and Under-15 titles.

To do so, the Rangers will have to get past the Challenger Crew Jrs. Black (OH-N), who today defeated the Chicago Magic (IL), 2-1, to clinch a U-15 Boys title game birth. The Rangers didn’t have much trouble against Challenger when the teams met in their first preliminary game of the tournament, as they won handily by a score of 4-0. But Fullerton head coach Jimmy Obleda isn’t expecting to play the same Challenger team that they dominated two days ago.

"They turned things around after we played them and now they are in the finals," Obleda said. "They are a whole new team and we expect to play a different team than the first team we played."

The Rangers already qualified for the finals after the second game of the week. Despite resting certain players Saturday, the Rangers defeated CUP Crew Jrs Gold (OH-S), 2-0.However, Challenger was faced with a win-or-go-home match against Chicago Magic today. The Magic had won their first two games, and would have advanced with either a tie or victory.

The momentum of the game shifted rapidly to Challenger’s favor in the 36th minute when Magic’s Ricardo Pimentel received a red card for an intentional hand-ball in the box. Not only did Challenger gain a one-man advantage as a result of the red card, but they gained a one-goal advantage as well when Challenger captain, Justin Nadzan, cashed in the penalty kick to make the score, 1-0.

"Today we came out with the knowledge of how high the stakes were, and as a result we played a bit nervous at first," Challenger head coach, Gary Gilmour said. "But these boys were able to pull through with the mindset that if we get to the finals, it is a one-off game. And now we are there."

Challenger doubled its lead six minutes into the second half when Trevor Colazzo received a pass from Lawrence Karpeh on the left flank. Colazzo was able to beat a man to the outside and then strike the ball past the keeper on the near post.

The Chicago Magic refused to go down without a fight, however. The Magic created numerous opportunities on the counter attack, but Challenger combatted that with sound offside traps, which resulted in the Magic being called for offsides six times.

The Magic were able to break through in the 73rd minute as Renato Albuquerque forced a breakaway and found Daniel Giraldo in the middle for a goal. For the remainder of the game, Magic continued to try and score another goal, but to no avail.

Fullerton and Challenger will meet tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. on field five at Manchester Meadows in Rock Hill, S.C. While the Rangers have the memory of winning the U-14 Boys title, they are solely focused on this year.

"Winning a second title definitely sets you apart. But at the same time, we come here just like everyone else. We don’t see it as we are last year’s champs, but that we want to be this year’s champs," Obleda said. "If we are blessed enough to win another one, we will be the happiest people on the earth."

Challenger has accomplished their goal of making it to the finals, but Gilmour made it clear that his boys are going for the championship.

"I can’t really put it into words," an emotional Gilmour said. "I have been with a majority of these boys for six years, and it would be unbelievable for their work to pay off with us winning the National Championship."