A few things have changed since VSA Heat Blue (VA) won the Under-17 Girls title at last year’s US Youth Soccer National Championships, but one thing that hasn’t changed is VSA continuing to play at a high level against difficult competition.
VSA went through a tough US Youth Soccer National League competition in the Under-18 Girls Red Division to earn a spot in the 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championships in Overland Park, Kan., where the Virginia side will look to repeat as national champions.
This year, two additional National League qualifiers bump the total amount of teams in the Under-18 age group at Nationals from six to eight. The eight are divided into two groups of four.
VSA head coach Steve Smith said he expects the competition to be even tougher this year. He said the squad hopes lessons learned from the National League and last year’s championships will translate to more triumphs in Overland Park.
"Every time we stepped on the field, we knew we were playing for something," said Smith regarding the National League. "I think that translates here to Nationals. You only get three games, and you’ve got to be on for all three. I think in National League, we learned the value of consistency and playing at a high level."
VSA again will need to play at a high level if it wants to repeat its success from last year, when it defeated Legends FC 94 (CA-S) in a lopsided 6-0 win in the U-17 Girls final. With Legends in the same pool as VSA in this year’s championships, Smith knows his squad will have to be ready from the start.
This year’s VSA team is a bit different than the one that lifted the U-17 trophy a year ago. A handful of players are off at college summer sessions getting mandatory work in with strength coaches. But Smith still has confidence in his players.
"We’re not as deep as we were last year, so I think that’s the biggest difference," said Smith. "But, I still think we have a good team going out there to Nationals."
Smith said this year VSA will rely on its competitiveness and defense, which has been a strong suit for the squad. At last year’s National Championships, VSA did not allow a single goal during its run to the title. During the 2012-2013 National League season, VSA allowed just six goals in seven games, as it finished second in the Red Division.
Three of the goals VSA gave up in National League came in a 3-1 loss to Team Chicago Botafogo (IL), which won the Red Division with a perfect 7-0-0 record. Botafogo, which competed at Nationals last year, will look to continue that dominance and capture the crown this year in Overland Park.
Despite the larger field full of stiff competition, in addition to some of his players away at college, Smith is confident in his VSA squad. He said the players’ experience in last year’s National Championships gives them an advantage, as they know how to handle the day-to-day grind that comes with the competition.
Smith said the VSA players are anxious to get started on their title defense. And while they’re aware of the tough road ahead, the players are looking ready to get together and take on the challenge.
"We really enjoyed our experience last year, so we’re looking forward to it. Hopefully, we can finish first in our group and get back to the final, but we’ve got a really good group," said Smith. "We’re excited to go out there and compete and see how we do."
Don’t miss a moment of the Under-18 Girls National Championship with live scoring here, http://tournaments.usyouthsoccer.org/events/2013-National-Championships/Schedule/U18-Girls/Division+1/.