Even though his team already had secured a berth in the U.S. Youth Soccer Association National Championships, Ohio Premier Green Under-18 boys coach Travis Wall said his players were highly motivated entering the Midwest Regional Cup, which was held June 23-28 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
OP Green U18, which clinched a national championship berth by winning the eight-team National League Black Division title in March with a 5-0-2 record, reached the regional final before losing to McCook (Illinois) Lyons Township SC on penalty kicks June 28.
The game was tied at 1 through regulation, and OP Green U18 was outscored 5-4 in penalty kicks.
Forward Noah Paoletti scored for OP Green U18 to tie the game at 1 in the second half.
"When you get into a tournament setting like (the Midwest Regional Cup), it's not that hard because we have a group of really competitive guys who want to be the last team standing," Wall said. "That's the reason we won the National League and we won regionals last year. We show up in events. We're a very competitive team that takes a lot of pride in digging out tough results."
The regional champions in each age group advanced to the national championships July 25-30 in Frisco, Texas.
OP Green U18 went 3-0 in pool play and then defeated Northfield (Illinois) FC United Select 1-0 in a semifinal June 27.
Midfielder Chris Dowling, who finished the tournament with three goals, scored the game's lone goal in the second half.
In pool play, OP Green U18 defeated Elm Grove (Wisconsin) SC 1-0, Sporting Omaha (Nebraska) FC 1-0 and the Milwaukee Bavarians 3-2.
"I give our guys a lot of credit because it's not easy to play with the target that they have," said Wall, whose team won a regional championship last year and captured its sixth consecutive State Cup title earlier this year. "They were the defending regional champs and they got out of pool play with three National League teams in our group and we did it without some pretty key players that were injured and everyone stepped up. We have a lot of positives to take away from the week."
Wall said forwards Luke Kiley and D.J. Brown and midfielder Carter Patchett also were among the team's top players.
Brown filled in for starting goalkeeper Bryant Pratt, who was sidelined early in the tournament with an ankle injury but returned for the final.
"D.J. stepped in and did a fantastic job," Wall said.
Three other Ohio Premier boys teams competed at regional, including OP Green U19/20, which lost to FC United 3-0 in the final June 28.
OP Green U19/20 went 2-0-1 in pool play to reach the semifinals, where it defeated the Milwaukee Bavarians 6-1 on June 27.
In pool play, OP Green U19/20 defeated Elkhart (Indiana) County United 3-0 and Sioux Falls Alliance SC 8-1 and tied Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Cedar River Soccer Association at 1.
Jack Holland led OP Green U19/20 with six goals, followed by Ian Black with three.
According to Wall, OP Green U19/20 secured a national championship berth since FC United locked up a spot by finishing second in the National League Red Division.
OP Green U15 won its pool at 2-0-1, but lost to Grand Rapids (Michigan) Midwest United 1-0 in a semifinal June 27.
In pool play, OP Green U15 defeated Avon (Ohio) Team Challenger 2-1 and St. Louis Scott Gallagher 2-0 and tied Brookfield (Wisconsin) Waukesha Blue at 1.
Forward Drew Clement led OP Green U15 with three goals.
"We were thrilled," coach Billy Thompson said. "We're a new team that hasn't done a whole lot and wasn't really on the radar at this level and we had a great season... We came up a little bit short (at regional)."
Thompson said midfielder Chris Geddes and defenders Joe Cannon and Jevon Diawara also were among the team's top players.
OP Green U17 won its pool at 2-1, but lost to Chicago Raiders FC 1-0 in a semifinal June 27.
"They were regional champions last year, but we had beaten them earlier this season and felt confident," coach Alan Yost said of Raiders FC. "We had opportunities and probably should have pulled out the win, but it just didn't fall our way."
In pool play, OP Green U17 defeated Naperville (Illinois) Galaxy 2000 Blue 3-2 and Cincinnati CUP Gold 2-1 and lost to Waukee (Iowa) Vision Soccer Academy 1-0.
Midfielder/forward Drew Fischer led OP Green U17 with three goals.
Yost said midfielder Christian Buendia, defender Owen Sullivan and forward Mitchell Hughes also were among the team's top players.
"Everyone on the team played well," Yost said. "It was a good experience. We were capable of winning regional."
Two Club Ohio teams
compete at regional
Club Ohio was represented by two boys teams in the Midwest Regional Cup.
Club Ohio U15 Green 1 went 3-0 in pool play, but lost to Nebraska FC 1-0 in a semifinal June 27.
In pool play, Club Ohio U15 Green 1 defeated Sioux Falls Alliance Soccer Club 5-0, Wilder (Kentucky) Kings Hammer Academy 5-0 and Chicago Magic North 2-0.
Christopher Guerra led Club Ohio U15 Green 1 with four goals, while Matthew McLaughlin and Jayden Tharp both scored three.
"We didn't give up a goal in our group play, so defensively we were pretty good," coach Mike Lawrence said. "Our goalkeeper, Trent McConnaughey, saved a penalty kick in one of the games and came up with a couple good saves."
Defenders Ryan Walters and Sean Fournier also were among the team's top players, Lawrence said.
Club Ohio U16 Green 1 went 1-2 in pool play, defeating Crown Point (Indiana) Elite 1-0 and losing to Louisville Javanon Black 2-0 and Chicago Raiders FC 3-1.
Jaggar Brooker and Colin Kirkley each had a goal for Club Ohio U16 Green 1.
Lawrence said defenders Sean Carrier and Connor DesRoches and midfielder Ethan Love also were among the team's top players.
"I was very happy," said Lawrence, who coaches both Club Ohio teams. "We were in tough groups and we lost a tough game with the 16s against a good Javanon team.
"Overall, I'm pretty happy. We were hoping to get out of the group, but they battled hard and they were in each game, so we're not disappointed. We're happy with what we came with and how we did."