Despite not making it out of the Region II Championships last year, Galaxy 94/95 Blue (IL) earned its way to the 2012 US Youth Soccer National Championships via the National League.
Galaxy advanced to the Under-17 Boys National Championship game last year after topping their pool with an undefeated 2-0-1 record. The lone tie came against in-state rivals Raiders FC Premier (IL), who they had defeated in penalty kicks to win the State Cup earlier that year. Raiders tied Galaxy for points finishing in second and another game would be played between the two teams - this one for the U-17 Boys Don Greer Cup. Galaxy would come out with a 4-1 victory to become National Champions.
"Defending our title is something we’ve talked about from the moment we got back from National Championships last year," said Galaxy Head Coach Brett Strang. "With this being the final week before a lot of the boys go out on their own they want to end on a high note together. There’s a reason why repeating is difficult and a reason why they make such a big deal of it even at the professional level, because it’s not easy to do. You start the season with a gigantic target on your back."
The target on the back was apparent this season as Galaxy couldn’t repeat as division winners in the National League. Nevertheless, with the addition of extra National League teams into the National Championships this year, a second place finish in their division with a 4-1-2 record was enough to punch a ticket to Overland Park.
"The National League gives you the hopes of getting to the National Championship rounds of play," said Strang. "Every single game, point, goal you score, and goal you give up is crucial for the standings to see if you’re going to be one of those teams that is fortunate enough to qualify for a spot in the National Championships. Having it so we have to battle so hard at the beginning of the season is great preparation for us."
The battle for Galaxy would ensue as they entered the Illinois State Cup. Galaxy progressed to another State Cup Final where they would again meet rivals Raiders FC. This time Raiders would get the better of Galaxy and take the State Cup.
With both Galaxy and Raiders finishing in second and first of their respective National League Divisions the two teams will meet in group play to continue the rivalry with only one of them having a shot at returning to the National Championship game.
"It’s a great rivalry and it’s one of the best kinds because there is a mutual respect from the players and the coaches and we all want each other to come out healthy at the end of the game," said Strang. "Although, once that whistle blows and they step across those lines there’s not a lot of love lost between them. The respect is there but there is a heated intensity once the game starts that lasts 90 minutes, and for us, sometimes it’s more than 90 minutes."
So what makes this Galaxy team so special?
"We’re not always the best, most talented team out there; but we pride ourselves on being the best team with how we work together and go about our business. Even when our players find themselves with their backs against a wall they have always been able to rise against that wall."
Come July 23, Galaxy will look to rise against another wall as they open their title defense against PDA Harkes (NJ) in Overland Park. See how the standings evolve as the Under-18 Boys make the most of their moments in the run to the National Championship, http://tournaments.usyouthsoccer.org/events/2013-National-Championships/Schedule/U18-Boys/Division+1/.