Grant Traylor: W.Va. soccer still has way to go
BARBOURSVILLE -- In the two years that the state of West Virginia has hosted the US Youth Region I Championships, the state's soccer teams have shown improvement that leaves reason for optimism.
They have also shown that there is still a long way to go before the Mountain State would ever be King of the Mountain in soccer.
Don't get me wrong.
It is exciting that West Virginia has two teams -- the U-16 Boys and U-12 Girls -- who are 2-0 in pool play and have the chance to control their own fate in advancing to the semifinals.
However, there are also some of the other scores that have been seen throughout the tournament that show the domination that other areas still hold over Mountain State competition.
In terms of youth soccer, West Virginia has one of the smallest pools of soccer players to draw from of any state in the nation. Yet they play in the region that boasts of the highest number of soccer players in the nation.
Talk about being the smallest fish in the biggest pond.
So will this fish ever grow?
The jury is still out.
Volunteer Bill Perdue was around West Virginia youth soccer when it boasted of one of its all-time greatest moments. His son Todd played on the 1997 WV Rowdies team that won Region I.
He said that while everyone talks of the state's growth of soccer interest, it isn't really much different than what he saw 13 years ago when Todd and his teammates carried the banner.
"You look at the kids today and the U-12 kids are doing what the 16- or 17-year-olds were doing during that time. It's grown leaps and bounds in skills and quality players," Perdue said. "We've said that soccer is going to grow but you haven't seen the big growth."
For Perdue, he said that if the state is to ever become a major player in soccer, now is the time to carry the momentum of soccer enthusiasm for the Tri-State.
"We've got this tournament, plus it's a World Cup year, so you have to grow your momentum now," Perdue said. "But I really don't know what it's going to take to get it to grow because it's been flat for the last 10 years here."
If results are any indication of growth, West Virginia teams are still relatively small.
On Saturday, West Virginia got four more wins, equaling the entire win total from 2009.
However, the four wins also brought West Virginia's collective record in the tournament to 7-29-2.
Of the 19 different teams competing in this week's tournament, 12 are currently sitting at 0-2 heading into Sunday's final day of pool play.
Even in such a promising time for West Virginia soccer, numbers don't lie.
There is plenty of work left to do on the pitch.
MILESTONE FOR STATE: In asking around to US Youth Soccer and WVSA officials, no one can remember a time in which two West Virginia teams were 2-0 heading into the final day of pool play.
The WVSC Elite Titans are 2-0 after a pair of wins in the U-16 Boys division while the WV United Soccer Club Elite is also 2-0 and unscathed after its first matches.
With wins on Sunday, each team would advance to Monday's semifinal round of the Region I Championships.
FIRE IN THEIR EYES: Maybe it's only fitting that a match between teams with the nicknames Dragons and Xplosion got a little heated on Saturday afternoon.
In the day's final match on Field 1, the Freestate Dragons (Md.) and YMS Xplosion (Pa.-E) engaged in the tournament's first fight.
Two players -- one from each side -- were ejected, along with a coach of one of the teams.
Whether the heat of the day or the heat of battle, both sides got a little too hot under the collar and saw red.
Grant Traylor is a sports writer for The Herald-Dispatch. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or contacted by phone at (304) 526-2759.