One is from North Carolina, one is from South Carolina. One is a brand new club, the other just won their fourth consecutive state cup. One is highlighted by national team players, the other boasts a balanced attack with no one sparkplug.
One is NC Alliance, the North Carolina State Cup champions who were born out of a partial merger between Triangle FC and Fuquay Varina Athletic Association (FVAA). The other is CESA, the South Carolina State Cup champions who are well-known in the soccer world and in this age group after three straight regional appearances.
And both have a chance to make waves at this week’s US Youth Soccer Region III Championships.
“Our mindset is that we know our goal is to get out of group play,” says CESA coach Pearse Tormey. “Whether that takes nine points, six points, or four points, that’s our goal.”
CESA is the one with the balanced attack. Torsey says that no one player has stood out all season; it’s been a collection of good players making plays at the right time.
“We don’t have two or three great athletes that our team depends on,” says Torsey. “Our biggest threat is the team chemistry, and the kids believing in themselves and working hard every game.”
Midfielder Tyler Rider and forward Ryan Bertling are essential to the CESA attack, and Torsey says if they can be consistent and keep possession, they’ll lead their teammates to score goals. But, he says, anyone could score at any time.
For NC Alliance, two national team players highlight their roster: defender Conor Donovan and forward Ade Taiwo. Coach Henry Gutierrez says because of the merger, he knows his team has the best talent in North Carolina.
“We have had some very talented teams, and when we put them all together, the chemistry really made the difference,” says Gutierrez. He is sure to note the contributions forward Moises Gonzalez and center back Chase Rhode, and said that often times, those players make all the difference.
Obviously, with a new team, regionals are a new atmosphere. But Gutierrez says that he doesn’t worry about who they play when, they just wants to get his guys ready.
“There are so many good clubs, and so many good teams we could play,” he says. “We just want to prepare ourselves, and play the game we want to play.”
Alabama squad returning for third consecutive year
The Vestavia Steamers return to the Region III Championships for the third year in a row, and coach Luke Whittle knows this time is different.
“The guys are not intimidated anymore,” says Whittle. “We can compete with anybody, we’ve shown it.”
Forward Nathanael Dauphin scored five goals in three games at last year’s regional, and just returned to Vestavia after a brief stint at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. And forward William Legrand has the unique ability to “create something out of nothing,” according to Whittle, making the duo very difficult to defend.
“We’re a team that people will underestimate because we are from Alabama,” says Whittle. “But we’ll stay in games, we’ll grind it out, and we’ll catch people off guard. We work hard and we don’t go away. And on any given day, we can beat anybody.”
West Pines United (Group B) – The Disney Showcase champs had a disappointing Florida State Cup, and will look to rebound at regionals.
Jacksonville United (Group D) – Could be on collision course with fellow Florida squad West Pines. The two never met in State Cup, as Jacksonville went on to win.
NC Alliance (Group C) – Watch for the two National Team players.
OK Texans (Group D) – Has had great success in tournament play this year
CESA (Group A) – This National League team also won the Jefferson Cup Showcase this spring.
Under-16 Players to Watch
Connor Donovan, NCA Alliance – Region III ODP, Part of US Soccer Residency program, made several U-17 USMNT appearances last year
Lawrence Taiwo, NCA Alliance – Region III ODP, Part of US Soccer Residency program
Austin Sandel, West Pines – Region III ODP
Samuel Vinson, West Pines – Region III ODP
Bryan Gonzalez, West Pines – Region III ODP, former national team pool
Eli Pinner, GSA – Region III ODP
Jack Gayton, Concorde – Region III ODP