Depth leads U19 boys team to success
Crew Juniors U19 boys soccer coach Brian Bliss readily admits that his current team isn't quite as talented as last year's version.
Bliss said this year's roster is more comparable to the U19 squad that he coached two years ago -- it doesn't feature many marquee players, but it's deep.
That might be a good thing as the Crew Juniors enter the 2012 Midwest Regional Cup, which will be played Saturday, June 23, through Wednesday, June 27, in Saginaw, Mich.
Under Bliss' direction, the Crew Juniors U19 team won the Midwest Regional Cup and the US Youth Soccer Association National Championships in 2010.
Last year in the Midwest Regional Cup, the Crew Juniors U19 squad went 1-0-2 in pool play and finished second in its four-team pool with five points behind the Chicago Fire Juniors (2-1, 6).
"I'd venture to say that last year's team had more individual talent and this year's team has more depth," Bliss said. "From my experience coaching in this tournament, I'd say that if I had to error one way or another, I'd rather have more depth than a few more talented players because depth becomes very important when you have to play five games in five games to win the tournament. I like the way this team has been built."
Two of the Crew Juniors' players were named to the Big Ten Conference all-freshman team last fall in forward Adam Montague (Michigan State) and defender Eriq Zavaleta (Indiana).
Midfielder Wil Trapp also trained with the U.S. U20 national team in South America earlier this month.
"We may not have as many as last year, but we still do have some standout players," Bliss said. "With Adam Montague, the Walker twins (Matt and Will) and Kofi Agyapong, we have the potential to be a high-scoring team."
In the U19 State Cup tournament, which was held June 2 and 3 at the Warrior Soccer Complex in Dayton, the Crew Juniors defeated CUP Crew Juniors 4-0 in a semifinal before defeating Club Ohio Blast 2-0 in the final.
Zavaleta was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, scoring two goals with three assists in two games.
"We scored a lot of goals, but our defense was really good, especially against pressure in the final," Bliss said. "Sage Gardner, David Abidor, Chandler Gagnon and Nick Hagglund defended a lot of balls in the box and made sure our goalies had to make only routine saves."
The Crew Juniors open pool play Saturday, June 23, against SDU Madrid from South Dakota before playing Sunday, June 24, against United 1996 FC 93 International from Kentucky and Monday, June 25, against the Kansas City (Kan.) Rangers.
Last year in the Regional Cup, the Crew Juniors opened pool play by tying St. Croix from Minnesota at 1 before defeating the Chicago Fire Juniors 3-2 and tying the Des Moines (Iowa) Menace at 1.
"Our goal is to win regional and national titles, and we expect to win the State Cup every year even though it isn't a given," Bliss said. "We need to continue to defend the way we did in the State Cup, and hopefully our goal-scorers will come through for us."