In about two decades of coaching boys soccer at the club level, Mike Lawrence guided a team to the national level just one other time before he led the Club Ohio Under-16 Green 1 squad to the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships this summer.
“It’s not easy,” said Lawrence, who coached the Ohio Premier Eagles U16 boys to a runner-up finish in 2014. “It’s an unbelievable experience not just for the parents and players, but the coaches enjoy it, too. This is the first time Club Ohio has had a team go to nationals.”
Lawrence’s latest team won the Midwest Regional Cup held June 22-27 in Westfield, Indiana, to advance to nationals, which began July 24 in Frisco, Texas.
Club Ohio went 0-2-1 in the preliminary round to fall short of advancing out of group B pool play.
The team opened with a 2-1 loss to Solar of Dallas on July 24, played Tuzos Academy of Phoenix to a scoreless tie July 25 and fell 1-0 to Washington Premier Black of Puyallup, Washington, on July 26.
If Club Ohio had won or tied its third game, it would have advanced to a semifinal July 28.
“It was a really cool experience,” Olentangy Orange High School junior Jason Stewart said. “Every game felt like a championship-level game, and that’s something you don’t get (from the Midwest tournament) and State Cup. It was our goal to make it to nationals and play on the national stage.”
Stewart, who played holding midfielder, was part of a defense that impressed Lawrence throughout nationals.
Hilliard Davidson’s Charlie Riddle and Marietta’s Sean Fournier served as center backs and Marysville’s Ryan Walters and Dublin Jerome’s Young Mu Lee were the outside backs.
Cleveland St. Ignatius midfielder Matthew McLaughlin scored for Club Ohio in the national opener against Solar, which went 3-0 in pool play but lost 2-1 to Arlington (Virginia) SA Red in a semifinal July 28.
“In my first tryout for Club Ohio, something clicked for me,” said Stewart, who was new to the team this summer. “I immediately went home and said this was the team I wanted to play on. Our team has a passion to play.”
Others from central Ohio who competed for Club Ohio included Dublin Coffman’s Jack Bailey, Trent McConaughey, Braden Shoaf and David Urrea Partida, Jerome’s Simon Cole, Dublin Scioto’s Zachary Jasper and Jayden Tharp, Hilliard Darby’s Trevor Burke, New Albany’s Blaine Martin and Worthington Kilbourne’s Chris Guerra.
“Unfortunately we didn’t capitalize on the other teams’ mistakes,” Lawrence said. “We had chances. We had some chances at the end (against Washington) after we went down 1-0. At that level, everyone is so talented and every team we played was different. Each team played three different formations. We worked really hard and were competitive. We’re disappointed we didn’t advance, but we were really close. … Defensively we were pretty good.”