There are still a couple games to go, but Bethesda Lions (MD) is confident it has what it takes to make it to the Under-15 Boys final at the 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championships, presented by the National Guard.
The result didn’t come easy, as LVU put pressure on the Lions for the entirety of the match. It took a perfectly-placed free kick goal by Sepehr Hoghooghi to help the Lions come out on top. Phillip Grossman drew a foul just outside the LVU penalty area, and Hoghooghi struck the ensuing free kick over the LVU wall and inside the far post.
Lions captain Juan Ramirez said Hoghooghi has made it a habit of coming through with similar key goals.
"It was the greatest feeling just to be up," Ramirez said of the winning goal. "It’s not the first time. He’s done it before. He scores a lot of free kicks for us and a lot of game winners."
The Lions needed the Hoghooghi heroics after LVU put pressure on them for much of the game. The Pennsylvania squad earned five corner kicks within the first 15 minutes of play, as it attacked the Lions’ back line.
While LVU had several chances, it was Ramirez who made the most of his opportunity in the early minutes. He showed speed on a long run down the right side into the box before firing a shot into the far corner of the net to give the Lions a 1-0 lead.
As the game went on, the Lions began to maintain more possession of the ball, which pleased head coach Emile Mbouh.
"The transition between the defense and midfield and forwards was awesome because they were passing the ball around," Mbouh said. "That’s what we always teach them, to pass the ball around and be patient. They had that patience and it paid off."
LVU kept attacking, as well, and nearly equalized on the final play of the first half, but Pierre Reedy’s header off of a corner kick was cleared off the line at the near post by a defender. The Lions weren’t as fortunate in the 52nd minute, when a LVU free kick swung into the box, and Byron Derti headed the ball into the far corner to even the score.
The Lions generated several chances of their own in the second half, but LVU goalkeeper Chase Missmer made some athletic saves to keep the match close. Missmer even got a touch on Hoghooghi’s winning strike, but the keeper couldn’t deflect it enough to prevent the winning goal.
"Those were high-class saves," Mbouh said. "He did very well because he kept them in the game for a long time."
Ramirez said LVU fought hard and made it difficult on the Lions to come away with two goals and a win. After the game, some of the Lions’ players mentioned similarities to last year’s loss to eventual runner-up Sunrise Elite 97/98 (FL).
The Lions aren’t letting last year’s shortcoming intimidate them from making a run at this year’s title. While Ramirez said the team is confident it can advance to the Under-15 Boys final, he and Mbouh both said they have to take it one game at a time, especially with a crucial matchup with Dix Hills Elite (NY-E) coming up on Friday.
For now, Mbouh is happy to see his team doing well against the top competition in the nation.
"It’s very good for the kids because this is the highest level of youth soccer in the country," Mbouh said. "I’m so happy to be here two years in a row, and playing this way is a bonus."