Commentary

FC Pennsylvania marches to a different beat

Updated: March 13, 2009, 1:50 PM ET
By Sheldon Shealer | ESPNRISE.com

FC Pennsylvania is not the typical club soccer program.

While mega-clubs such as the Dallas Texans, San Diego Surf and Michigan Hawks field teams in every age group, FC Pennsylvania takes it one team at a time. And the club's current squad, the under-15 FC Pennsylvania Strikers, is on the verge of a national tournament berth.

[+] EnlargeBVSC Club Soccer
Bostwick DesignThe US Youth Soccer National League titles will be decided this weekend for the under-15, under-16 and under-17 girls soccer teams
The Strikers' story highlights this week's US Youth Soccer National League preview. This weekend in Las Vegas, the under-15, under-16 and under-17 girls and under-17 boys will complete National League play, which will finalize the teams earning automatic bids to the 2009 US Youth Soccer national championships.

The Strikers are tied for second with the Surf, but the placement is misleading. Four of the eight teams are finished with National League play, including current front-runner Dallas. The Strikers -- and the Surf, for that matter -- need only two positive results to advance, as the top-two-finishing teams earn national tournament spots.

The Texans are finished, with 10 points on a 2-1-4 record. The Surf and Strikers are 2-0-2 for eight points. NSA Premier Fury (with eight points), the Michigan Hawks (with seven points) and D'Feeters (with seven points) all are finished and have been eliminated from title contention. The Wall Wombats and San Juan Spirits, currently in seventh and eighth place, respectively, are mathematically still alive for one of the two national championship spots.

The Surf, Strikers, Wombats and Spirits will play a three-match round-robin to finish the league schedule. The Surf and Wombats square off while the Strikers and Spirits go head to head in Friday's first round. The Strikers and Surf then clash Sunday, in a match that might be meaningless if both win their first two contests.

In the under-16 girls' age group, the Dallas Texans are finished with 15 points and look almost assured of advancing, unless both the Slammers FC (Calif.) and So Cal Blue (Calif.) post 2-0-1 records.

The Dallas Texans have clinched the under-17 girls' title, and the already-finished Eclipse Select (Ill.) have a strong hold on second place. Only Vardar (Mich.), with a 3-0 record this weekend and outscoring their opponents by seven goals, has a chance at catching Eclipse.

Regardless of the under-17 boys' results this weekend, nothing will be settled until the postponed matches from March 1 are finished. Three of the four boys teams competing this weekend have been mathematically eliminated from first or second place. Only Slammers has a chance of catching the front-runners.

The most intriguing series this weekend is the under-15 girls' matches. So far, 13 of the 22 matches played in this group have ended in ties, which is why Wall and San Juan remain in the running for first or second place despite a combined 1-3-4 record entering this weekend.

The favorite to snag one of the two advancement spots is the Strikers, which have been on a tear, winning six of the past seven tournaments in which they have competed.

Unlike the mega-clubs that dominate the elite club scene, FC Pennsylvania has taken a different path under manager/coach David Shaw. Shaw, trainer Jim McLoughlin and goalkeeper coach Shawn Mecchi are unpaid volunteers. Shaw's idea was to start a youth team and stick with that squad all the way until high school graduation, then return to the under-11/12 ranks and do it all over again. The current Strikers represent the third team in the club's 12-year history.

"We have four coaches [including a former player who also helps out], and we want to work on the basics and do it one team at a time," Shaw said. He has no plans to expand the FC Pennsylvania program. At the under-13 level, the Strikers won the US Youth Soccer Region I crown; however, that age group does not advance to the national tournament. Last year, the Strikers won the state cup and reached the region semifinals. In the past year, this team has won the Las Vegas College Showcase, Premier I League, State Cup, FC Delco Cup, Spirit United Kickoff Classic Tournament and the WAGS tournament. The Strikers' lone non-championship-winning outing was a 3-1 showing at the Disney Showcase in December.

FC Pennsylvania's location in suburban Philadelphia allows Shaw and his coaches to tap into a talent-rich region. Although a majority of the team's 18-player roster are Pennsylvania players, the team has one player from Delaware and a few from New Jersey.

Brittany Ratcliffe, who attends Paul VI in Haddonfield, N.J., is the team's most decorated player. The forward has been on the U.S. under-14 and under-15 national teams.

Eleven other team members are part of the Region I ODP pool, and four others are members of the Eastern Pennsylvania State ODP squad.

The Strikers went 2-0-2 in the first round of National League matches, with Dana Rosney scoring three of the team's four goals. Ratcliffe missed that event due to injury, but Shaw confirmed that she will play this weekend, which will give the Strikers extra scoring punch.

Current National League Girls' Soccer Standings

Under-15

Under-16

Under-17