Remember the (W.Va.) Titans
BARBOURSVILLE -- As the second year of the US Youth Soccer Region I Championships started in West Virginia, boys teams from the Mountain State were still in search of their first win as hosts.
That victory came early on Friday morning as the WVSC Elite Titans earned a hard-fought 2-1 win over Black Watch Premier (R.I.) in a U-16 Boys match on Field 6.
While a win for the state on the boys side was important to head coach Bob Gray, there was something a little more important in his mind following the match.
"What this means is that we still have our fate in our own hands," said Gray, who is also the Marshall men's soccer head coach. "We want to play and have it matter come Sunday."
Heading into the match, boys teams from West Virginia had gone 0-21-2 since Barboursville started hosting the tournament.
Tommy Trupo was a big reason that the streak came to an end with a goal and an assist to pace the Titans in the win.
Midway through the first half, Trupo bent a ball into the box off a set piece and the ball deflected perfectly to Trevor Starcher, who deposited it into the net for a 1-0 lead that the Titans took to intermission.
"We've all been together since we've been 8-years-old and it's all been preparing for this," Trupo said. "Trevor and I have been best friends since we were 8 and we know where each other is on the field. I played it to him and he put it right in."
Early in the second half, Trupo used his speed and skill to get around a Rhode Island defender and beat the goalkeeper to give WVSC Elite a 2-0 lead.
Both goals came in the opening stages of each half -- something Trupo said that Gray has emphasized leading to the tournament.
"Our coaches always tell us to get after it early and we did," Trupo said. "We came out in the first 10 minutes and got one off a set piece, which is critical, and the second half we got one in 10 minutes again. From there, we played more defensively and shut down their holes really well."
The lead seemed comfortable at the time, but that was not the case.
As time started to crunch, Rhode Island pushed forward and the Titans' defense bowed a little bit. Black Watch Premier got on the board with approximately 12 minutes remaining to set up an exciting finish.
The Rhode Island side continued to put pressure on, but WVSC Elite held off any further scoring chances to get the victory.
"I told the guys that they have to learn how to win -- how to manage the game when they are ahead," Gray said. "They think they are good enough, but they don't quite believe it fully yet, and it showed at the end in the last 10 minutes."
Trupo recalled the team's first contest last year when they played as U-15 Boys. The Titans led Herndon (Va.) 1-0 throughout the match, only to give up the tying goal late and settle for a 1-1 draw.
This time, there would be no such finish as the defense bent, but didn't break under the pressure to earn an important win on several levels for West Virginia soccer.
"It's so enlightening. Now you know you've won a game (at regionals), you can do anything," Trupo said. "We did this for the state of West Virginia. We have to win two more and we're going to move on."
The WVSC Elite Titans return to action at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning against Far Post Premier (Vt.) on Field 8 at the Barboursville Soccer Complex.