Border states battle
BARBOURSVILLE -- YMS Xplosion (PA-E) goalkeeper Drew Hutchins has the utmost respect for TSF Academy Celtic (NJ), whom he faced in the U-18 Boys championship Tuesday.
After all, the teams have met in each of the last three US Youth Soccer Region I tournaments with great battles each time.
As for the rest of New Jersey?
"To Pennsylvania, Jersey is the worst state in the country and to Jersey, Pennsylvania is the worst in the country," Hutchins said. "That's just how it is."
The close proximity between the two -- only the Delaware River separates the states -- along with the elite level of soccer played in the area has forged a rivalry that is unmistakable on the field.
Games between the two states often take on a much more physical nature, but with the increased physicality also comes increased skill, making the matches a treat for fans.
That's part of what made Tuesday's title games in the US Youth Soccer Region I Championships so special.
New Jersey sent nine teams into the championship game, meaning that in exactly half of the title games a team from the Garden State was featured.
Not far behind was Eastern Pennsylvania's state association, which featured eight teams in seven championship matchups. Both participants of the U-16 Boys championship were from the association with Penn Fusion Celtic representing the Premier League entry.
More importantly, the two powerful soccer states went head-to-head in five championship matchups.
While New Jersey had more entrants in the championship games, Eastern Pennsylvania took down the unofficial crown as top state association with six championships.
Ironically, New Jersey was the only other state that Eastern Pennsylvania defeated in the championships, sporting a 5-0 record. The other championship was the U-16 Boys matchup, pitting a pair of the association's teams -- PSC Coppa and Penn Fusion Celtic.
The results will likely not please Marshall University soccer coaches Bob Gray (men's) or Kevin Long (women's) as Gray grew up in New Jersey and Long coached at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J.
Some years are like that, however, as the two states jockey back and forth atop the ranks of the state associations.
Tom Anderson, coach of the U-18 Girls PDA Fire and president of the PDA club, said it is easy to see how the rivalry -- and subsequent elite level of soccer -- came about.
"They are right across the river so we play a lot," Anderson said. "It's not too far to drive an hour or two when you want to play against the best competition.
"That's what helps make us the best."