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Friday, December 23, 2011
High School Soccer Stories of the Year

By Sheldon Shealer

Richard Sanchez
Although he was born in the U.S. and lives in Texas, Richard Sanchez played for Mexico at the 2011 Under-17 World Cup.
From an American-born player collecting gold at the Under-17 World Cup for Mexico, to a stunning debut of a teen in MLS to a heart-warming story in Louisiana, we take a look back at some of the boys' and girls' soccer stories that made 2011 special.

Richard Sanchez Makes U.S. Soccer History - - Playing for Mexico

Richard Sanchez is an American citizen through and through. He was born in California, plays professionally for FC Dallas of the MLS and is taking online classes to get his high school diploma. This past summer, Sanchez became the first American-born player to win a FIFA men’s international competition. But he didn’t do it for the U.S. Eligible for the Mexican National Team because his parents were born in Mexico, Sanchez chose El Tri over the Stars and Stripes and backstopped the squad to the U-17 World Cup title as the starting goalkeeper. “I always felt something different when I saw the Mexican flag,” said Sanchez. “I know at heart I’m Mexican.”

Diego Fagundez Scores in MLS Before Getting Driver’s License

Diego Fagundez is only a sophomore at Leominster (Mass.), yet he’s already making an impact at the professional level. The 16-year-old native of Uruguay is a member of MLS’s New England Revolution, and he scored two goals for the team in six appearances this past year. His most memorable game was his pro debut on Aug. 6 in a 3-2 loss to Chivas USA, as he drew a penalty kick that was converted by teammate Shalrie Joseph in the 69th minute and scored his first pro goal in the 85th minute.

He may not yet have his driver’s license, as ESPN Boston’s Scott Barboza reported in August, but he’s already well on his way to accomplishing great things.

Development Academy pushes for 10-month schedule

The US Soccer Development Academy announced its intention to adopt a 10-month season for all Academy teams, and with that it would prohibit its athletes from playing soccer for their high school teams, effective next school year. While the raw number of players who will not be eligible for high school soccer is not significant, it’s the loss of high-end quality players that tend to matriculate to the nationally known private schools that might change the high school landscape. The decision to adopt a 10-month schedule has been widely critiqued in the media, especially in areas where the high school experience is regarded as a positive one.

Ross Barron
Ross Barron, who has Down syndrome, scored a goal in his final high school match.
A goal that will not soon be forgotten

Earlier this year in Louisiana, Pineville (La.) soccer player Ross Barron, who also has Down’s, was inserted into his team’s last game with minutes remaining and Pineville down 8-0 to heavily favored Lafayette (La.). When Lafayette coach Jeremy Cart saw Barron check in, he proposed to Pineville coach Grant Eloi that they get the senior a goal. After a couple misses, Barron buried one in the net, bringing his coach and many in attendance to tears.

ECNL expands in teams, schedule and age groups

The Elite Clubs National League overhauled its format to resemble that of the US Soccer Development Academy for boys’ soccer. The move marked the second major expansion of the three-year league – and it added more teams, another age group and more matches. During the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, the ECNL schedule was limited to nine to 12 games per club. Starting with the 2011-12 season, each of the ECNL’s 66 clubs will play a schedule that ranges from 24 to 30 matches.

Under-17s conquer Brazil

Rubio Rubin, Tyler Turner and Wesley Wade scored first-half goals that lifted the U.S. Under-17s to a 3-1 victory over Brazil for the program’s first-ever Nike International Friendlies tournament title. The match, played before 3,000 spectators in Sarasota, Fla., on Dec. 4, is among the greatest victories ever by the Under-17 program.

Lengthy undefeated run comes to an end

The nation's fourth-longest undefeated streak in high school boys’ soccer history ended Feb. 27 night as Jesuit (New Orleans) lost 2-1 to St. Paul's (Covington, La.) in the Louisiana Division I state final. Jesuit had gone 94 matches since its last defeat, which was in the 2008 state semifinals to Woodlawn (Baton Rouge, La.). The New Orleans power was bidding for a third straight state title but was denied by a goal from St. Paul’s Will Gutterman with four minutes left to play that snapped a 1-1 score. Jesuit went 30-0-2 in 2008-09 and was crowned the FAB 50 national champion. Last year, the Blue Jays went 30-0-1 and finished No. 3. This year’s squad was 28-0-2 going into the final.

Marc Pelosi
Marc Pelosi signed with Liverpool in November.
California teen signs with Liverpool

In November, Marc Pelosi -- regarded as the top college prospect in the Class of 2013 -- signed a three-year contract with English Premier League member Liverpool. A week after signing, he dressed for Liverpool's match against UEFA NextGen, but did not see action.

Dramatic state final finishes

U.S. Youth National Team member Shea Groom netted a goal with one second remaining in overtime to give Liberty (Mo.) a 2-1 victory over Ursuline (St. Louis) in the Class 3 girls' soccer state final in the spring. The score was Groom's 52nd on the season and gave the Kansas City-area power its second straight state title. ... In the fall boys' soccer season, Wichita Northwest (Wichita, Kan.) won the Kansas 6A crown with a penalty shot in the final second to complete a perfect season. Northwest earned a corner kick in the closing seconds of the match and a red-card issued to an opponent when the kick was put into play put Northwest's David Lucio at the penalty spot. His shot hit the crossbar, but landed behind the goal line for the winning score in a 1-0 match against Olathe South (Olathe, Kan.).

Valimaa suits up for Finland

Six months to the day after Verneri Valimaa wrapped up training camp with the U.S. Soccer Under-18 National Team, he suited up to play for Finland in a June tournament in Portugal against the U.S. Valimaa, now a freshman at George Mason University, holds dual citizenship in the countries. He told ESPNHS that he accepted Finland’s offer to play only because they asked first. Valimaa ended up starting all 18 matches for George Mason this past fall and finished tied for the team’s fourth-leading scorer.

POWERADE FAB 50 champions

The winter 2011 high school season featured something new and something old. It marked the emergence of Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) as a national boys' soccer power. The boarding school with a heavy influx of international players ended the year as No. 1 in the POWERADE FAB 50 boys' soccer rankings. Meanwhile, St. Thomas Aquinas (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) claimed its second FAB 50 title with a 25-1 season. The spring No. 1s went to the boys' soccer team at St. Pius (Atlanta, Ga.) and the girls' soccer team at Novi (Novi, Mich.). Boys' soccer power St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.) claimed a seventh overall national title in the fall, while Carmel (Carmel, Ind.) ended as the girls' soccer No. 1.