The Ohio Premier Eagles U16 boys soccer team had less incentive to win the Midwest Regional Cup than others in its age bracket.
But according to coach Mike Lawrence, judging by their performance, one would never know that the Eagles had a free pass to the U.S. Youth Soccer Association National Championships.
The champion of each age group in the Regional Cup, held June 21-25 at John Ankeney Soccer Complex in Beavercreek, advanced to the National Championships, which will take place July 21-27 in Germantown, Md.
The Eagles, who were Regional Cup runners-up, already had qualified for the national event by placing first in the National League in the spring.
"Our players already knew that we had an automatic berth to the national tournament, so it's good that they still played hard in this tournament," said Lawrence, whose team lost to Chicago Magic 3-2 in the regional final June 25. "I think it says a lot about our team's character that our players were still motivated to try to win this tournament, even though we didn't have as much on the line as most of our opponents."
Emmanuel Dapaa, who had nine goals to lead all U16 boys teams, scored 15 minutes into the regional final and Cole Heilman scored with two minutes left in the first half, giving the Eagles a 2-0 lead at halftime.
Chicago Magic rallied to score three second-half goals, including two in the final five minutes.
"We played well for 60 minutes of an 80-minute game and then had a complete meltdown," Lawrence said. "Chicago scored off a weird bounce with 20 minutes left and we just weren't settled from that point on. That was disappointing because it's uncharacteristic of our team to break down like that."
The Eagles defeated Louisville (Ky.) Javanon 5-2 in a semifinal June 24, getting first-half goals from Jack Holland and Heilman to take a 2-1 lead into halftime. In the second half, Dapaa had two goals and Brian Woo scored one.
"We were motivated because Javanon beat us (1-0) in May and we came out ready to play hard," Lawrence said.
The Eagles went 3-0 to win their pool. They opened with a 5-2 win over Nebraska F.C. on June 21, getting two goals from Dapaa and one apiece from Isaiah Harris, Holland and Brady Whittekind.
The Eagles beat Kutis Academy from St. Louis 2-1 on June 22 behind two goals by Dapaa and defeated Sporting Blue Valley from Kansas 4-0 on June 23, getting two goals from Dapaa and one each from Kingsley Amoakohene and Heilman.
"The second game was the key one because they were a good defensive team," Lawrence said, referring to Kutis Academy. "Emmanuel had an outstanding tournament and the nice thing was everyone on our team got to start at least one game and play a lot of minutes."
Five other central Ohio teams competed in the Regional Cup but none placed first to advance to the National Championships:
The Ohio Premier Eclipse U19 girls team finished second, losing to Team Chicago 2-0 in the final June 25.
It was the fourth appearance in the Regional Cup for the Eagles, who also lost in the final in 2009 and 2011. Last year, they won the Elite Clubs National League tournament in Aurora, Colo.
"It was a lot of fun for us to play together again one more time," center midfielder Kaitlin Miller said. "We had some (scoring) opportunities, but we just didn't finish them. We got too relaxed at times and they had some good finishes."
The Eagles defeated Lou Fusz from St. Louis 8-2 in a semifinal June 24, as Miller had two goals and Lindsey Agnew, Alexis Degler, Erin Holland, Brooke Maletic, Summer Schafer and Nikki Waldeck each scored one.
"A lot of our kids were on last year's team that won a national title, so they know what it takes to go deep in a tournament like this," coach Chris King said. "We played really well in our semifinal."
The Eagles went 3-0 to win their pool. They opened June 21 with a 5-1 win over the Cleveland Pacesetters, getting goals from Agnew, Miller, Schafer, Waldeck and Michelle Prokoff.
Eclipse defeated LSC EGA Booyah from Nebraska 2-0 on June 22 behind goals from Schafer and Waldeck and beat the Michigan Hawks 4-1 on June 23 as Schafer had two goals and Maletic and Prokoff each scored one.
"We had to come out of the U19 group of death," King said. "The Pacesetters were a good team to start off against, but that Nebraska team and the Hawks are two of the top 10 teams in our region and they were both tough to beat.
"Our scoring was balanced through the tournament and we were able to get it done by committee."
The Ohio Premier U14 boys team reached a semifinal, where it lost to Sporting Kansas City Academy from Kansas 4-1 on June 24.
Luke Kiley scored his team-high fifth goal to tie the score at 1 heading into halftime.
"They were a very good team and they outplayed us," Lawrence said. "Unfortunately, we just didn't play very well. We had a lot of defensive mistakes and unforced errors."
The Eagles went 3-0 to win their pool. They opened with a 2-0 win over Nebraska F.C. on June 21 behind two goals from Kiley. They then beat LTSC Showcase from Illinois 4-0 on June 22 behind two goals and two assists by Kiley and defeated Lou Fusz 3-1 on June 23 behind goals from D.J. Brown, Ryan Kayalar and Jacob Roberts.
"Sam Mason played fantastic at center midfield and our entire defense played well," Lawrence said, assessing his team's overall performance. "Luke Kiley didn't even dress for us in the third game and he still scored five goals in three games. A lot of different kids stepped up to help us make it this far."
The Classics Eagles U17 boys team advanced to a semifinal, where it lost to Chicago Fire 2-1 on penalty kicks June 24.
Connor Davis scored off of a pass from Ben Kinney midway through the second half to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead, but the Fire tied the score two minutes later.
After both teams failed to score in two 15-minute overtime periods, the game went to a shootout, which went 13 rounds.
"This was a great game between two very equal teams," coach Andrew Belleman said. "It was a war of attrition because it was a hot day and a lot of players' legs started to cramp as we played a total of 120 minutes, not including the penalty kicks. We both had our chances to win the game in regulation and overtime, and we were a penalty kick away from winning this game. We're disappointed we didn't win, but I wouldn't have done anything different."
The Eagles went 3-0 to win their pool, opening June 21 with a 4-2 victory over CUP from Cincinnati as Kinney had three goals and an assist and Davis had one goal.
"We knew this was the key game in our bracket, so we put everything into it," Belleman said. "Ben Kinney had a monster game and we executed our game plan well."
The Eagles defeated United International from Kentucky 4-1 on June 22 behind two goals from Luke Morais and one each from Davis and Kinney, and they beat Minneapolis United 4-0 on June 23, getting goals from Kinney, Morais, Chewy Gordon and Jared Pressley.
"We were a little spent emotionally in the second game, but that opponent was a little weaker and we were able to get through it," Belleman said. "We played a very good team in our third game."
The Blast F.C. U15 boys team went 1-1-1 and finished second in pool behind Minneapolis United (2-0-1).
The Blast opened June 21 with a 2-0 win over Chicago Fire Juniors, as Joshua Boamah scored in the first half on a header off of an assist by Tre' Boger and River Allbaugh scored in the second half.
The Blast rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie the Michigan Jaguars at 3 on June 22, getting goals from Weber, Allbaugh and Wes Collins, before losing to Minneapolis United 3-1 on June 23.
Travis Moore scored against United.
"We played much better (against United) than we did in our first game, but we missed at least 10 chances for goals," coach Lesh Shkreli said. "If we would have buried at least one-third of our chances, we would have gone through with no problem."
The Crew Juniors U19 boys team went 2-1 and placed second in their pool behind Cleveland Everest (2-0-1).
The Crew opened with a 4-3 win over Nebraska F.C. on June 21 as Amass Amankona had two goals and Christian Soldat and Daniel Jensen each scored one.
The Crew defeated Sporting Iowa 3-1 on June 22 behind two goals from Amankona and one from Soldat, but lost to Everest 3-0 on June 23.
Against Everest, goalkeeper Nicholas Ciraldo was issued a red card for a handball late in the first half.
"We thought Nick had come out and made a clean tackle, but he was called for a handball and that red card really hurt us because we had to play down a man the rest of the game," defender Charlie Reymann said. "After they scored their first goal, we had to throw guys forward and that left us vulnerable in the back."