Commentary

Gamble pays off big for Bays

Updated: March 2, 2009, 8:25 PM ET
By Sheldon Shealer | ESPNRISE.com

Steve Nichols' "mistake" is turning the Baltimore Casa Mia Bays 94 into the hottest boys' under-15 club in the United States.

Mike Greene
Bostwick DesignMichael Greene has been solid on defense as the Casa Mia Bays are riding an 11-match undefeated streak
Nichols, the Bays' coach, added Michael Gamble and Malcolm Harris to the team's roster before the start of the 2008-09 season. This past weekend, Gamble scored five goals and Harris, a youth national team member, added two as the Bays clinched a spot in the U.S. Youth Soccer national championships by finishing with a 5-0-2 record in the boys' under-15 National League.

"Both of them should be playing for our under-16 Development Academy team," Nichols admitted. "In fact, Harris has no business playing under-15s."

Yet, here they are, and the Bays' under-15s are benefitting.

Since adding Gamble, Harris and Derek Chan at the start of the season, the Bays won a Disney Soccer Showcase title in December, secured no lower than a second-place finish in the U.S. Youth Soccer National League and are 9-0-2 over the past three months.

"They are probably the hottest team in the country right now -- definitely the hottest in their age group," Nichols said.

For the under-15 Bays, the strong start is tempered only by the knowledge of other Bays squads' accomplishments.

With a national tournament appearance secured, Nichols said the pressure is off this team he termed the "ugly ducklings" of the Bays club organization. This is the fourth team Nichols has coached in the Casa Mia Bays club, and the other three have won two national titles each and made a combined eight national final appearances.

At the under-12 and under-13 age groups, the Bays 94 were upset in the Maryland State Cup finals. Last year, the Bays 94 won the state cup and advanced to the U.S. Youth Soccer Region I semifinals, where they lost in overtime to eventual national champion NJSA Gunners (N.J.).

Traditionally, club teams could advance to the U.S. Youth Soccer national tournament only by winning its state and region titles. The creation of the National League has given elite clubs an alternative: The top two finishing teams following an eight-team round-robin event receive automatic bids to the nationals. Nichols said the Bays 94 will still compete in the Maryland State Cup and, with a victory, the Region I tournament. The Bays stand alone in first place in the National League under-15 age group, and only the Grand Rapids Crew Juniors (Mich.) can catch the Bays.

The Bays entered this past weekend's competition with a 2-0-2 record and tied with Grand Rapids for first place. Three wins in Marietta, Ga., would seal at least second place, and the Bays got it -- in overwhelming fashion. Gamble scored three goals in the team's 4-0 victory over TFC 94 (Texas). Gamble opened the scoring, and then Harris scored twice as the Bays defeated Solar (Texas) 3-0. Gamble and Chan produced the goals in the Bays' final-day 2-0 victory over SCSA 93 (N.C.).

"This team has been near the mountain top, only to roll back down and never get to the top," Nichols said. "If they keep improving, this will be a dangerous soccer team come July 21-22-23 [start of the national tournament]."

While the Bays 94 were already a strong side, Nichols said the offseason player additions have put the squad on another level.

Gamble, a freshman at Glenelg Country Day School (Ellicott City, Md.) who previously played club ball for Thunder SC (Md.), tried out with last year's under-15 team this past summer, and Nichols was stunned to see him competing with John Guzman and Marquez Fernandez, two of the current under-16 stars. "[Gamble] could be starting for the under-16s, but I knew he'd help the under-15s."

Gamble has 15 goals in 11 matches with the Bays.

"He has great change of pace," Nichols said. "And, he has no conscience. He's go-go-go. Sometimes he'll fail, but he doesn't give up or back down. He's not quite the pace of [current University of Virginia player Chris] Agorsor or the skill of Guzman, but he's right in between."

Malcolm Harris, a freshman at Good Counsel (Olney, Md.), was already a known player. He is part of the U.S. Soccer under-15 national pool, in which he plays defender. With the Bays, he is an outside midfielder. Chan, a freshman at Atholton (Columbia, Md.), was a high school all-county player as a defender this past fall before joining the Bays.

The Bays' other key players are defender Michael Greene, a sophomore at Tuscarora (Frederick, Md.); defender Matt Shinsky, a freshman at McDonogh School (Owings Mills, Md.); midfielder Seth Moses, a sophomore at Loch Raven (Baltimore, Md.); forward Ishi Calwrie, a sophomore at Randallstown (Md.); and keeper Andrew Harris, a freshman at Gilman School (Baltimore, Md.). Last year's leading scorer for the Bays was B.J. Kyote from Pittsburgh, who is sidelined with a knee injury and isn't expected to play until later this spring, according to Nichols.

Andrew Harris is drawing favorable comparisons to Akira Fitzgerald, another Baltimore product who is the starting goalkeeper with Wake Forest. However, behind this Bays' lineup, Harris is seldom tested. He was in goal for all three Bays shutouts this past weekend.

The Bays started their weekend with back-to-back matches against Texas clubs. Following the 4-0 win over TFC, the Bays needed three second-half goals to put away Solar 3-0 and secure the team's first national tournament appearance.

"After we beat Solar, there was no celebrating," Nichols said. "I think these guys have been living in the shadows of the older [Bays] teams, and they won't be satisfied until they win a national tournament."