After four weekends of US Youth Soccer National League play, the 2012-2013 season will be finalized this weekend, March 16-17, as the remaining Boys and Girls teams head to Las Vegas, Nev., for their final three games. Each division will be represented by four of the eight teams, as half of the field in each gender completed their season in Orlando at the start of the year.
“It’s really great to play at this caliber. First and foremost, the professionalism of the National League; taking care of players, making them feel special, showing them what it feels like to be professional and the setup and organization,” said Lehigh Valley United Director of Coaching, Greg Ramos. “It’s really an atmosphere and an environment that’s really special. Then you come in and have the quality of the matches that you get, and it’s just the best thing that we’re apart of each year.”
The National League is an extension of the highly successful US Youth Soccer Regional Leagues (Region I Premier League, Midwest Regional League, Southern Premier League and Far West Regional League). The National League provides an avenue for teams to play in meaningful matches against top competition from across the country for continued development. In addition to recruiting opportunities, National League teams compete for the league title and two slots per division to the annual US Youth Soccer National Championships, the oldest and most prestigious youth soccer national championship.
Teams that earn their spot in the National League have a proven track record of success in US Youth Soccer regional and national competitions, and are among the nation’s best. Hundreds of college scouts attend each National League weekend, creating another significant opportunity for the nations collegiate and National Team coaches to see National League players in an environment of meaningful play, citing the competitive level of each game as every team has to earn their spot in the competition, regardless of club affiliation or location.
“Every team deserves to be here, they earned their way in here, and every team competes to the end. So, every game for us was very, very difficult,” said Match Fit Academy Girls Director of Coaching, Dom Bucci. “This is our third year in the National League, this is the best league in the country, and we’re happy to be a part of it.”
The sixth season of league play marked some changes as an additional two teams per age group, four total, will advance to the 2013 National Championships this summer in Overland Park, Kan., and the Under-18 Boys and Girls now advance to the National Championships through the league.
With four National League representatives joining the four Regional Champions at the National Championships, the stakes are high as National League representatives have shown their strength through the first five years. Over that time, National League teams have won 20 of a possible 30 National Championships, including seven of eight in 2012.
Heading into the final weekend, just five of the 16 division titles have been decided, and 16 of the 32 slots to the National Championships have yet to be claimed. The pressure is on for the teams competing in Las Vegas, but many teams will be at home anxiously awaiting the results from this weekend’s games to find out their fate.
Teams that finish in the top-two of their division will secure their place in the league next year and advance to the National Championships, but the teams that fall short will have another opportunity through their respective Regional Championships. Last year, 15 National League teams went on to claim their Regional Championship and advance to Nationals.
“I think for player development, they have to continue to play in competitions that take them out of their comfort zone and that have something on the line that requires them to have to play under some sort of pressure,” said Eclipse Select Head Coach, Rory Dames. “When there’s something on the line, and you can get players into those types of competitions, it’s definitely going to increase their development.”
The Under-18 Boys might be the most exciting group to watch in Las Vegas. Concorde Fire Elite (GA) clinched the Blue Division title on the final day of play in Orlando, holding onto a 1-1 draw in the final minutes against AHFC (S-TX). That result meant that defending National League and National Champion Galaxy SC (IL) must wait to find out if their 14 points will be good enough to keep them in second place and earn a chance to repeat their title. Everest SC (OH-N) is the only team that can pass Galaxy, but they’ll need all three victories in Vegas to do so.
In their first two years in the National League, Albion USA (CA-S) claimed division titles and were National Championship finalists in both years. Last year Albion finished tied atop the division with Galaxy, but lost the head-to-head tiebreaker before falling in a shootout in the semifinals of the Region IV Championships. Albion, Lexington FC (KY) and Sereno (AZ) will try to dismantle Everest’s hopes and get into form to make a run at the Regional Championships.
While the Blue Division is cut and dry, the Red Division will be three days of drama as all four Vegas competitors have a chance to move on to Nationals. CUP Crew Juniors (OH-S) moved into first place after Orlando, but defending Region II Champion and National Finalist Raiders FC(IL) are just one point behind, defending National League title holders Eastside FC (WA) and 2009 National Champion West Coast FC (CA-S) are just three points behind CUP, while SC del Sol (AZ) is four points back. The teams in Vegas have given up just four goals combined so far this season.
Click below to see age group previews, as well as individual honors from youth U.S. National Teams, ODP, Gatorade Players of the Year and NSCAA All-Americans. For a current list of National League college commitments, click here.
US Youth Soccer National League
By: SoccerNation News – Youth Soccer News
Youth Soccer News: US Youth Soccer National League Will Close Out Play with Las Vegas Competition