VSA Heat defeats Team Chicago to claim the Under-19 Girls title
VSA Heat Blue (VA)’s journey to the 2014 Under-19 Girls National Championship started when the final whistle blew last summer in Overland Park, Kan.
After falling in overtime of the championship match to Team Chicago Academy-Botafogo (IL), the Heat players knew they wanted to make one more run at the title before wrapping up their youth careers.
The ride ended Saturday night on top of the podium, as VSA used an early goal to defeat defending champion Team Chicago, 1-0, in the Under-19 Girls final at the 2014 US Youth Soccer National Championships, presented by the National Guard.
“It’s a big one because obviously we lost last year,” VSA coach Steve Smith said. “We were very inspired to come out and play today and get another chance at them. We thought we had some chances last year that we didn’t put away, so that’s why we got the team back together.”
VSA, which won the 2012 National Championship as an Under-17 squad, didn’t hesitate to push the tempo and create some early chances — leading to an important early goal.
The Virginia side produced a barrage of shots from distance, which began with Allison Bunner’s sixth-minute effort from the top of the box that rang off the crossbar. Five minutes later, Caitlin Hite sent a curling effort at goal that forced Team Chicago keeper Megan Geldernick to push it over the top. After the ensuing corner kick, VSA’s Autumn Berry placed her shot from 20 yards out just under the bar to put the Virginia side up, 1-0.
Berry said VSA was came into the match ready to go and was able to ride the momentum create by her early strike to hold on to the lead.
“[Team Chicago] is a great team. They’re awesome,” Berry said. “They were taking it to us. I think our character and our heart really stuck out, and that’s why we were able to finish it strong.”
After the initial 10-minute push from VSA, Team Chicago settled down and to take control of possession in search of an equalizer. The Virginia side was able to quell the Team Chicago threats and headed to the final portion of the game with the one-goal lead intact.
VSA then nearly doubled its advantage in the 80th minute, but Victoria Burress’ tap in was ruled offside — leaving Team Chicago just one goal from equalizing. The Illinois side nearly took advantage in the 88th minute, but Elizabeth Bartels’ shot was palmed away by VSA keeper Taylor Kerxton.
“I think we have the best back four in the nation,” Smith said of his defenders. “We have always been built around our defense and our keepers. They did a tremendous job.”
The Virginia side held on for the last few minutes, and when the final whistle blew, they all converged around the back four to celebrate.
Both Smith and Berry praised Team Chicago and said it felt good to bounce back after last season and finish their Under-19 year on top. Berry said there as a bit of a revenge factor, but they respect Team Chicago and she thought it was good to go head-to-head one last time.
With the win in the final matchup against their Illinois counterparts, the VSA players were able to enjoy the thrill of winning the title for the second time in three years.
“I think it’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Berry said. “Two championships — there’s nothing better. That’s the way to end it, with a team that has so much heart and courage and character.”