Area youth soccer stars to chase titles in Oklahoma

Jun. 19, 2013 @ 09:00 PM

Our area is a buffet where club soccer coaches can poke around before mixing and matching the choicest players for their squads, netting fleet-footed talent from among the high schools.

The result is three local club teams heading to Edmond, Okla., where their quests for national championships pick up intensity this week.

Edmond is the site of the US Youth Soccer Region III Championships for teams competing in the South division. Hillsborough-based N.C. Alliance 95 and N.C. Alliance 96, as well as Chapel Hill-based Triangle United 95 Gold will be among the teams representing North Carolina. The opening ceremonies are today and teams from a variety of age and gender groups open play Friday and continue through Thursday.

The local teams qualified for the regional games after being the last ones standing during the US Youth Soccer North Carolina State Championships. They will be among nearly 200 US Youth Soccer teams from the South region that comprises North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee. Regional winners will go for national titles from July 22-28 in Overland Park, Kan.

Henry Gutierrez, who coaches N.C. Alliance 95, a team of boys ages 17 and younger, vouches for the talent that US Youth Soccer attracts. Most of his players are from Wake County, but some on the team come all the way from Wilmington a couple of times of week to train, Gutierrez said.

“This is their second rodeo,” Gutierrez said about his squad.

N.C. Alliance 95 should have done better a year ago during the regionals in Greenville, S.C., but it was their first time on such a big stage, Gutierrez said “Some of the jitters and the nerves got to them,” Gutierrez said.

Jordan’s Daniel Potts and Durham School of the Arts’ Fermin Uriz are on Gutierrez’s team.

Potts, a rising senior, missed his junior season at Jordan with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Retention is an important component when it comes to club teams with elite talent, Gutierrez said.

Such talent could cultivate big egos, but Triangle United 95 Gold coach Kalla Stark expressed his good fortune of being able to spend more time helping his under-17 girls work on their games rather than managing their personalities. There’s no griping among them, he said.

While Stark said his roster affords him the luxury of going 17 deep in games with no drop-off during substitutions, the team’s success in the regionals could be hindered by the loss of a goalkeeper who is out with a torn ACL, not to mention the absence of some players who joined other clubs.

“It’s going to be tough,” Stark said.

In North Carolina, girls play club soccer in the fall before suiting up for their high school teams in the spring. That time gap can be problematic, Stark said.

“A lot of things can happen,” Stark said, mentioning how some players and parents alike tend to be on the hunt for “the next big thing.”

The roster for Stark’s squad includes players from some of the area’s better girls’ soccer programs: Jordan’s Millicent Blivin and Rachel Hill; Northern’s Nicole Crutchfield; Northwood’s Jamie Palermo; Cedar Ridge’s Sierra Houck; Durham Academy’s Tara Nagar and Frances McDonald; Carrboro’s Marisa Nesbitt; Chapel Hill’s Alexandra Moiseenko and Laura Sullivan; East Chapel Hill’s Jordan Donnelly, Lauren Douglass, Riley Foster and Neeley Holroyd.

The under-16 N.C. Alliance 96 girls’ team coached by Tom Misuraca has a similar look: Durham Academy’s Dana Rowe; Chapel Hill’s Frances Reuland and Mia Spencer; Carrboro’s Leah Simon, Emma Houser and Caroline Houser; Jordan’s Amy Hicks, Anna Dekle, Tasha Pate; ECH’s Blakeney Blair, Emma Daum and Dylan Bedell; Oxford Webb’s Abbey Smith.

Changing sports for a moment to pro basketball, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and retired NBA coach Phil Jackson often are viewed primarily as great managers of personalities and egos. Misuraca said he does some of that with his club team, but the girls, as good as they are, still require coaching.

“You have to do a little bit of both,” Misuraca said.

Since N.C. Alliance 96 is a collection of players from various high school teams, they come to the club team with different styles, Misuraca said. High school coaches aren’t always the best tacticians, so their teams may approach soccer with a more forward, one-directional approach as opposed, say, to utilizing more ball movement and playing with more efficiency.

Misuraca said his girls last year were beaten with what he described as a controversial goal by a North Texas team that ended up winning a national title. He said he likes his team’s chances this time around.

“This is where we thought we would be,” Misuraca said.

US Youth Soccer is the largest youth sports entity in the country and the largest member of the United States Soccer Federation, the governing body for US Soccer, according to organizers. US Youth Soccer annually has at least three million players between the ages of 5 and 19, and its championship series provides a stage for college coaches to eyeball the top players in the country, according to the organization.

Daily reports and complete results from the tournament will be available online at Championships.USYouthSoccer.org/regionIII.