Eastside FC 98 Red Wins
Under-14 National Championship
Bellevue-based youth soccer squad becomes first Washington Youth Soccer GIRLS team since 1996 to win national title; club-mates Eastside FC 95 White take second at US Youth Soccer Presidents Cup
July was a good month at the headquarters of Washington Youth Soccer’s Eastside FC.
Behind a strong defensive performance and goals from Joanna Harber and Ellie Bryant, the Eastside FC 98 Red girls soccer team handed Pennsylvania’s YMS Xplosion 98 a 2-1 defeat on July 27 to win the Under-14 age group at the 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championships in Overland Park, Kans.
In addition, head coach Ryan Dortch’s Eastside FC 95 White won three straight games to reach the championship game of the Under-17 Girls division at the US Youth Soccer Presidents Cup in Auburndale, Fla., before their run finally came to an end with a 3-0 defeat to Eastern New York’s Capital United Fusion.
The US Youth Soccer National Championships is the most prestigious youth soccer tournament in the United States, matching up the most elite competitive teams from across the country. The US Youth Soccer Presidents Cup is also a high-level competition, exceeded in prestige only by the National Championships itself.
Both teams’ accomplishments were the product of months of practice and competition against the best squads in the state, region and country. Both Eastside FC 98 Red and Eastside FC 95 White won their respective regional championships to advance to July’s national finals, where they faced off against the champions of the other three US Youth Soccer regions.
The national championship won by Eastside FC 98 Red is the first by a Washington Youth Soccer team since 1996 – two years before any of Eastside FC 98 Red’s players were born.
"The girls were able to pull together against a really good team,” said head coach Tom Bialek. “The secret to their success has been their ability to stay loose and have a lot of fun. They do not take it too seriously and know how to compete very hard when it is time."
Joanna Harber, who will be a freshman at Bellevue High School this fall, put Eastside FC on the board early, taking advantage of a mishandled back pass to the Xplosion goalkeeper to slot the ball home into an empty net. The Xplosion keeper made up for her miscue a few minutes later, however, when she was called upon to make a spectacular save on a Zoe Milburn penalty kick, awarded after Harber was fouled in the penalty box. The game went to halftime 1-0, but didn’t stay there long, as Bryant doubled the scoreline just minutes after the break, heading in a beautiful cross from the flank.
YMS Xplosion, however, wasn’t going to go quietly, pulling one back with 30 minutes to play – the first goal allowed by Eastside FC since the semi-final round of June’s Far West Regional Championships, a span of more than 340 minutes. Explosion attacked the Eastside FC throughout the final half-hour, but a defense that had stood so strong throughout the tournament did so once again. Xplosion had a decided advantage in possession, with Eastside FC scoring its two goals on just three shots, while Xplosion fired eight shots at the Eastside FC net, requiring a remarkable five saves from goalkeeper Molly Monroe.
When the final whistle sounded, Eastside FC players stormed the field in celebration, to wild cheers from the family, friends and supporters among the many in attendance.
"I am proud of the team and the accomplishment,” said Harber, whose four goals in four games led all players in the tournament. “I am so happy to be a part of this team!"
Bialek says that it was that team-first humility, shared by all of Eastside FC’s players, that helped Harber -- known as “Jojo” by her teammates -- score as many goals as she did.
"The team created a lot of great opportunities and Jojo was able to be special when it was required,” he said.
The team of 15 girls, who hail from Bellevue, Sammamish, Seattle, Issaquah, North Bend, Auburn and Maple Valley, received a surprise just before Friday's semi-final game, when former U.S. Soccer star and Washington Youth Soccer product Michelle French showed up to give the team a pre-game boost. French coached Eastside FC 98 Red’s players for several years before resigning her post in February to become the head coach of the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National team.
“[I’m so] proud of the team and their accomplishment," French said. “The grit, determination and overall passion the team displayed throughout the entire tournament was outstanding. It is an incredible accomplishment for an incredible coach, team, and group of families.”
In addition to their National Championship win, Eastside FC received the Sportsmanship Award for their fair play. Bialek says that it is a fitting honor for a team whose unity and humility were the driving force behind their win.
"I am proud we won and how we won. Winning the Sportsmanship award is something our club places great value in,” he said.
Chance Fry, the Director of Operations for Eastside FC, summarized what the win meant to the players, parents, Club staff and volunteers who have worked with Eastside FC 98 Red’s players over the years.
"This is an amazing and historic day for the Club,” Fry said. “On a personal level, I could not be more proud of my friend and colleague, Tom Bialek, the work put in by Michelle French over the years, the team of kids and their families. I speak for the Club when I say many tears of joy were shed today."
It was a similar scene at the National Presidents Cup final in Florida, where Eastside FC 95 White completed a remarkable season with a second-place finish. After completing the round-robin preliminary round with a spotless 3-0 record, Eastside FC 95 White matched up in the finals against New York’s Capital United Fusion. The teams’ first match, in the group stage, had been one of the best of the tournament, with Fusion scoring a late equalizer to tie the game 1-1 in the 76th minute, only for Eastside’s Sophia Rouches to find the back of the net in the 90th and final minute of play to earn a 2-1 victory for the Bellevue, Wash., squad.
In the final, though, it was Fusion who struck first, with Brittany LaPlant putting the New York squad ahead in the 29th minute. As Eastside began to push forward in the game’s late stages for the tying goal, it was instead Fusion who broke through again, adding a second in the 73rd minute. LaPlant put the finishing touches on the Fusion win with a 90th-minute goal to seal a 3-0 win.
Eastside FC 95 White head coach Ryan Dortch credits his teams’ cohesiveness for their season-long success, and their outstanding performance at the National Presidents Cup.
"The amount of work and team togetherness that the girls displayed throughout the state, regional and national competitions was inspiring," he says. "We really were all pulling in the same direction and treated the competitions with seriousness, but kept it all in perspective and still had fun.
Dortsch also notes that the team benefitted from an outstanding support group.
"The whole journey was a team effort. This includes the parents, who were amazingly supportive of the players and coaches. They did a great job handling all of the necessary logistics so that we could concentrate solely on the on the field work," he says. "It was also a club effort. We had so much support form several other EFC teams and leadership. The GU12 Red team made care packages for our team's long journey to Florida. The BU16 Red team and the EFC 'grads' team played scrimmages against us to help us prepare."
"Right now it still stings but I know that as time passes we will all realize how cool this accomplishment is," he adds. "It was tough to get so close to becoming national champions, but I know it will be something that these players, families and coaches will remember forever. And really, it could not have happened to a nicer group of people."