U-19 players give it the college try
BARBOURSVILLE -- Their best scoring chance came from a set piece. A well-driven, slightly bending strike off the foot of their talented midfielder who had eyes for the upper part of the net, but missed high.
Their opponent's best-looking goal was the end result of a neat build-up, highlighted by quick two-touch passes and crossing runs.
Opposite ends of the team chemistry spectrum are constantly on display during this week's U-19 action at the 2010 US Youth Soccer Region I Championships.
It's a tricky age group. One that can be hit-or-miss with its players, many of whom are coming back from their freshman year of college.
Are they still in good shape? Are their skills still sharp? Are they even still playing soccer?
"The fact that some of us played in college and some of us haven't really hurts," said Alex Molina, a Marshall player and the midfielder who struck his CFC Elite's only shot in a 5-0 loss to FC Delco (Pa.) on Saturday. "It hurts our fitness level."
It can certainly hurt their fluidity on the pitch too. Because of player's differing work schedules and last-minute changes to rosters, finding practice times that suit everybody's needs is a challenge.
And when you can't practice together, you can have difficulty playing together.
"It's really tough just because there's people (on the team) that we've played with our whole lives and then there's people that we've never seen or talked to before," said Lizzy Turner, a member of the U-19 Girls West Virginia Chaos, who fell 7-0 to the FC Bucks Vipers (Pa.) on Friday." And we don't know how they play to how we play. We don't know how they've trained compared to how we've trained."
But for those U-19 squads that have been eight to 10 years in the making, everything seems to clicks when they come back from year No. 1 in college.
Ed Leigh's Vipers have talent seeping out of their cleats. He became their coach when they were in the U-11 age group ... eight state championships and a national title later, Leigh only needed to roll the ball out when his girls came back from school.
"The kids just love to play," Leigh said. "I try to make it a fun atmosphere. We get together, we play soccer. We don't do drills. We make it fun. They're a team. They love each other. They're one group. No superstars.
"Although some of them are superstars in college, we don't treat them that way.
"They know that they're not above the team."
Leigh tries to humble them the best he can. His puts his Vipers up against some professional talent in the Women's Premier Soccer League.
But even there, they've held their own -- going 6-3-1 in their first 10 games.
On the contrary, the Chaos didn't even have 10 practices before their first Region I contest.
"It's tough," said Marshall Hoff, the Chaos' coach. "The tough thing is some girls are two hours away from practices.
"It does make it tough because the girls are coming back from college and they all have jobs and you're not sure of their conditions and whether they can get off work or not (to practice.)
"But to look where we finished the second half (on Friday), that's where we have to go. And it's sad that we have to use a game to get there, but that's the way it is."
CFC Elite didn't even have to win, let alone practice for, a state championship to advance to regionals because of a lack of U-19 Boys teams in West Virginia.
"They don't have the population," said Alan Mezger, coach of FC Delco, a team stacked with Division I talent that's been playing together since they were 8-years old. "They have leagues, but only have four or five teams that have college players on it.
"So they're in a tough situation."