As the Crew Juniors Under-19 boys soccer team struggled against the FC Delco Hammerheads (Pa.) throughout the first 35 minutes of the U.S. Youth Soccer Association National Championships final, coach Brian Bliss patiently waited for his squad to make a momentum-changing play.
That play finally occurred 36 minutes into the game last Saturday in Overland Park, Kan., when Tyler Pollock scored off a header.
The goal seemed to energize the Crew, which outplayed the Hammerheads the rest of the contest en route to a 1-0 victory.
"They had us on our heels for the first 30 minutes or so, but I was confident that we were going to have the better of play at some point," Bliss said. "I think that goal boosted our confidence and deflated them a little bit. Right after that, we had the better of possession and started to string together some chances."
With the win, the Crew became the first Columbus-based team to win a national title since Club Ohio/Dynamo captured the U-17 boys title in 1994. The Crew also became the first Major League Soccer youth academy squad to capture the McGuire Cup, which was established in 1935 and is considered the oldest youth sport trophy.
Nearly 3,500 fans attended the game, which was broadcast live on Fox Soccer Channel.
"This was our last chance to win a youth national championship and we really wanted it," defender Chad Barson said. "You couldn't ask for a bigger stage to play on at this level. It was an honor to represent the Crew organization, because they've invested a lot into us this summer."
Barson set up the Crew's goal with a free kick from 40 yards out that Pollock headed over goalkeeper Robert Rosato.
Pollock had a team-high three goals in the tournament.
Justin Luthy, who was honored with the Golden Glove Award as the tournament's top goalkeeper, had three saves.
"Chad put a good ball in the box and I was able to run free and get to it," Pollock said.
"Their goalkeeper was coming out for the ball, but I managed to get my head on it first. I had a good run in this tournament, but I couldn't have scored without my teammates."
The Crew battled Andromedo Navy SC (Texas) to a scoreless tie on July 21, but bounced back to beat Westside Metros Internationals SC (Ore.) 4-2 the next day. In the latter game, Eric Stevenson, Pollock, Matthew Wiet and Eric Erb scored, and Paul Hendricks started in goal.
Last Friday, the Crew rallied to tie the Hammerheads at 1-all after Pollock scored late in the first half.
"We went 3-0 in the State Cup, 4-0-1 in the Regional Cup and 2-0-2 at nationals, and it feels great that we didn't lose a game together," Bliss said. "This championship shows that we're developing players who can compete at the highest level."
•The Blast FC U-16 boys team went 1-2 in pool play in its second-consecutive appearance in the national tournament.
The Blast, which went 0-2-1 in the event last year, didn't win a State Cup or compete in the Regional Cup this season, but advanced to the national tournament as a wild card after placing second in the national league.
"We wanted to do better, but it was a really big deal to be there for a second year in a row considering a lot of teams don't make it to nationals once," Shane Facemyer said.
The Blast opened pool play on July 21 with a 1-0 loss to Grand Rapids (Mich.) Crew Juniors.
"We dominated this game and had nine shots to their two shots, but they scored on a free kick and we couldn't finish," Facemyer said.
On July 22, the Blast lost to Slammers FC (Calif.) 2-0.
"We played hard the first day and I think our energy was down for the second game," Facemyer said.
The Blast rebounded to beat PSC Coppa 93 (Pa.) 3-0 last Friday, as Jeremy Fernandes, David Witkoff and Trevin Pitroff scored, and Jared Newman and Emmanuel Appiah had assists.
"We made sure we won this game to show people we deserved to be there," Alec Everts said. "We dominated them and passed it around, and they got frustrated and fouled us a lot."