A central Ohio club soccer team has won a Midwest Regional Cup championship three of the past four years, with the Crew Juniors U19 boys winning titles last year and in 2010 and the Blast F.C. U15 boys winning in 2009.
Mike Lawrence, who coaches the Ohio Premier Eagles U13 boys and U15 boys, expects area teams to fare well in this year's Regional Cup.
Five central Ohio boys teams and three area girls squads will compete in the event, which runs Saturday, June 22, through Wednesday, June 29, at Cownie Soccer Complex and Hidden Valley Soccer Park in Des Moines, Iowa.
Securing a berth in the Regional Cup by winning Ohio South State Cup championships were Crew Juniors U19 boys, Ohio Premier Eagles U13 boys, Blast F.C. U14 boys, Ohio Premier Eagles U15 boys and Classics Eagles U13 girls.
The Blast F.C. U18 girls qualified as a representative of the Midwest Regional League, and the Ohio Premier Eagles U13 girls and Blast F.C. U18 boys qualified as State Cup tournament wildcards.
"There are a lot of strong teams coming from the Columbus area this year and I wouldn't be surprised to see two or three teams from our area reach the Regional Cup finals this year," Lawrence said. "When you're competing in a tournament this competitive, there are a lot of factors that could make a difference. Sometimes it comes down to getting a lucky bounce or a timely call in a close game, or it may depend on how well your players travel. As a coach, you just ask your players to do their best and hope that your team catches a break."
More than 270 preliminary games will be played as boys and girls U.S. Youth Soccer State Cup champions, select wildcards and Midwest Regional League qualifiers in the U13 through U19 age groups compete. All of the age divisions have been divided into three- or four-team brackets, and every team will play a game within its bracket Saturday, June 22, Sunday, June 23, and Monday, June 24.
The bracket winners will move on to the semifinal round Tuesday, June 25, and the regional finals will be played Wednesday, June 26.
Regional champions in each age group will advance to the U.S. Youth Soccer Association National Championships, which will be held July 23-28 in Overland Park, Kan.
"A lot of this tournament comes down to how good of a draw you get," Blast F.C. U18 girls coach Mohamood Razack said. "If you get the right matchups in your bracket, it can set you up to go a long way."
For the fourth consecutive year, the Crew Juniors U19 boys have won the State Cup title to advance to the Regional Cup.
The Crew Juniors beat the Blast F.C. 3-0 in the State Cup final June 2 at the Crew training facility in Obetz, as midfielder Connor Klekota scored two goals and midfielder Louis Berra had a goal and assist.
Last year in the Regional Cup, the Crew Juniors went 3-0 in pool play before beating FCGB New United from Wisconsin 3-0 in a semifinal and Pacesetter Premier of Sylvania 3-1 in the final.
The Crew Juniors then went 4-1 in the U.S. Youth Soccer Association National Championships in Rock Hill, S.C., to win the McGuire Cup for the second time in three years.
"This is almost a completely different group of players from last year's team, but we're similar to that team in the way we play and in terms of our talent level," coach Jeremy Parkins said. "Having won this tournament before certainly gives us confidence that we can do it again, but we have to play with a chip on our shoulder and avoid being overconfident because we'll be facing strong competition.
"We're a possession-oriented team and we like to push the pace of the game. We need to apply high pressure defensively to force turnovers and we need to press our attack to wear on our opponents' defense."
The Crew Juniors have continued to draw elite players from across the country.
Femi Hollinger-Janzen, a midfielder for Indiana University, was named Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Year last fall, and defender Andrew Souders and goalkeeper Fernando Pina played for the U.S. U17 World Cup team in 2011.
"Some of our former U19 players have gone on to play professional soccer, and this group has the potential to be as special as the players we've had in the past," Parkins said. "We just need to stay disciplined because you need to play so many games in a short amount of time."
The Classics Eagles U13 girls will be making their Regional Cup debut after winning their second State Cup championship in three years.
The Classics Eagles beat the Ohio Premier Eagles 2-1 on penalty kicks in the State Cup final May 12 at Hobson Freedom Park in Fairborn to advance.
The Ohio Premier Eagles scored first in overtime, but midfielder Camryn Thompson scored the tying goal with three minutes remaining in the extra session. The Classics Eagles won the shootout 4-2, as goalie Katie Luce made two saves and defender Olivia Sensky scored the winning penalty kick.
Coach Mike Lentz is optimistic that his team can be competitive in the Regional Cup.
"We are a good team when we play one game per day, (so) this tourney structure is good for us," Lentz said. "We have to possess the ball to control rhythm and momentum.
"Confidence is huge at the U13 age group. We have good team confidence and must show it. We must compete to win, not just play."
The Blast F.C. U18 girls will be making their fourth consecutive Regional Cup appearance after finishing third in the Midwest Regional League.
The Blast lost to the CUP Crew Juniors 2-1 in a State Cup semifinal on May 11 but avenged the loss to the Cincinnati team 2-0 in their MRL finale May 22 to clinch a spot in the Regional Cup.
Forwards Maggie Mayo and Taylor Ross each had a goal in the rematch.
The Blast reached the Regional Cup final in 2010, losing to St. Louis-based J.B. Marine Wipke S.C. 4-1, but didn't advance out of pool play the past two years.
The Blast went 0-2-1 in pool play last year, playing O.F.C. Elite of Omaha, Neb., to a scoreless tie before losing to KSA Gold 94 from Kentucky 1-0 and Team Chicago Academy Botafogo 3-2.
"Beating CUP in our MRL game was a big win and it has given us confidence and momentum," Razack said. "Having been there three times before should help because our girls know what to expect."
The Blast opens pool play Saturday, June 22, against Sporting Blue Valley of Overland Park, Kan., before facing Team Chicago Academy Botafogo the next day and J.U.S.C./West Des Moines S.C. on Monday, June 24.
"We're in the group of death, where all four of us are good teams," Razack said. "But if we win our first game, I know we'll get out of our bracket because we know how to play Team Chicago and we'll be more organized against them.
"We don't have any superstars, but the girls jell together and we're organized strong on defense. Playing good defense is the key for us in this tournament."
The Blast F.C. U18 boys will make their first appearance in the Regional Cup.
The Blast lost to CUP Crew Juniors 3-1 in the State Cup final May 12 in Fairborn but advanced as a wildcard because the Crew Juniors chose not to compete in the Regional Cup since they already had advanced to the national tournament by placing third in the National League.
"We realize that most people don't have high expectations for us since we haven't won a State Cup, but we have high expectations for ourselves," coach Brian Stoddard said. "(Forward) Patrick Szymczak scored two goals in the final 15 minutes to help us come back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the defending State Cup champion, Classics Eagles, at 2 in a pool-play game and we beat Club Ohio 3-1 on penalty kicks in the State Cup semifinals, so we earned our spot in this tournament."
Among the key players for the Blast are Szymczak, midfielders Jack Flora and Jacob Pulliam and defender Michael Reed, Stoddard said.
The Blast opens pool play Saturday, June 22, against Carmel (Ind.) United before playing Springfield (Mo.) S.C. the following day and O.F.C. Elite on Monday, June 24.
"We're going to be the underdog in all of these games because the rest of these teams won their State Cups, but we got a decent draw that gives us a chance to reach the semifinals," Stoddard said. "The Nebraska team (O.F.C. Elite) reached a regional semifinal last year and the Missouri team is the strongest team in our bracket, so we'll need to play well right away."
The Blast F.C. U14 boys defeated NWC Alliance B98 Black 1-0 in overtime in the State Cup final May 12 in Fairborn despite having three of their players receive red cards during the game.
In the final, forward River Allbaugh scored off an assist from midfielder Cade Remy and Josh Marcum was the winning goalie.
The Blast open pool play Saturday, June 22, against the Cleveland Internationals.
"Three of our starters will have to sit out our first regional game because they received red cards in the State Cup final," coach Lesh Shkreli said. "We've handled the Internationals when we've played them in the past, but we're going to have only one substitute available for the entire game, so we need to play smart. We need to possess the ball and make them chase us so we can keep our guys fresh.
"We don't have any star players. Everybody has scored big goals in different games, including our defenders. We're a good team that plays as one unit."
Ohio Premier Eagles
The Ohio Premier Eagles U13 girls advanced to the Regional Cup as a wildcard after beating CUP Crew Juniors 2-1 in a State Cup semifinal and losing to the Classics Eagles in the final.
In the semifinal, forward Lyda Bogdanovitch and midfielder Jordan Taylor each had a goal.
"We had to beat the defending state champs in CUP in the semifinal and that was a big win that showed that we can play with anybody," coach Kevin Dougherty said. "We play good soccer instead of just whacking the ball down the field like some teams in this age group do. Jordan Taylor is a very crafty player who has a chance to be special. She could be a difference-maker in this tournament."
The Eagles open pool play Saturday, June 22, against the Michigan Hawks before playing Eclipse Select from Illinois the next day and Lexington (Ky.) F.C. on Monday, June 24.
"This is going to be really difficult to win this pool because they have all of the best teams playing each other," Dougherty said. "We're going to have to defend really well and counter-attack in a hurry. It's important to be clean and not give the ball away."
The Ohio Premier Eagles U15 boys defeated Ohio Galaxies F.C. 97 Elite 4-0 in the State Cup final May 12 in Fairborn to win their second consecutive State Cup title, as forward Emmanuel Dapaa had two goals and two assists and midfielder Everett Canepa had two goals.
Led by goalie Brennon Davis and defenders Jacob Felicetty, Jackson Grether, Matthew Scoliere, Cam Solomon and Brian Woo, the Eagles shut out all five of their State Cup opponents.
"Emmanuel Dapaa is one of the top 10 players in our entire region, and our guys in the back really did their job to get us this far," Lawrence said. "We have a lot of good role players, too."
The Eagles will face Sporting Blue Valley in a key pool-play game Saturday, June 22.
Last year, the Eagles just missed earning a qualifying berth to a regional semifinal after finishing 2-1 in pool play. They had six points, but Chicago Magic Pre-Academy advanced with seven.
In pool play a year ago, the Eagles lost to the Magic 1-0 but defeated Javanon of Louisville, Ky., 3-0 and Carmel United 2-0.
"That game (against Sporting Blue Valley) will decide our group because that's a tough team," Lawrence said. "If our defense is on, we're going to be tough to beat because we have a lot of guys who can score goals and it's tough to shut us out."
The Ohio Premier Eagles U13 boys beat the Ohio Premier Eagles Green-2 2-1 in the State Cup final May 12 at Fairborn to capture their second State Cup championship in three years.
Forward Luke Kiley scored both goals against Green-2.
"I actually coach both of those U13 boys teams, so I just sat at midfield and watched them play the final," Lawrence said. "We're obviously very deep at this age group and that could be an advantage in a tournament like this where you play so many games in such a short amount of time."
According to Lawrence, the Eagles' key players include Kiley, midfielders Jason Fleischman, Matt Marsh and Colin McCort and defender Justin Rehklau.
The Eagles will face the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Fever in a key pool-play game Monday, June 24.
"The Indiana team is a top-five team in our region, just like us, but if we come to play, we're going to be tough to beat," Lawrence said. "We just need to finish our chances and avoid defensive mistakes."