West Virginia youth soccer is pushing its boundaries a little further, as a Kanawha Valley-dominated Olympic Development Program team has advanced to a regional semifinal.
The state’s Boys 1997 team went three matches without yielding a goal last weekend, going 2-0-1 in preliminaries at the U.S. Youth Soccer Region I ODP Tournament at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J. That record was good enough to advance to the regional semifinal, the first time a West Virginia boys team of any age has done so.
The regional semifinal takes place June 21 in Kirkwood, Del., where the 16-man squad will face a team from Vermont. The other two semifinalists are New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. The finals are the next day, with the winner heading to Houston for the national tournament in December.
(This event differs from the U.S. Youth Soccer Region I Championships, a club-team event that is returning to Barboursville in 2015.)
Marshall coach Bob Gray coaches the team, with Hurricane resident Mark Conley assisting. Eleven players on the squad come from the West Virginia Soccer Club, with nine of those from the Kanawha Valley and two from the Huntington area. The rest come from other areas.
The West Virginia team started with a 0-0 draw with Eastern New York, then scored a 1-0 win over Western New York, with the goal by Ian Duckworth. Then came the benchmark victory, 1-0 over Virginia.
In that match, Ben Hartiens scored what Gray called a “scrappy” goal, and the defensive quartet of Justus Richmond, Noah Laliberty, Joey Trupo and Tyler Shaffer was strong throughout. But it was goalkeeper Steven Schlegel of FC Wheeling who was called on to make several critical saves in the final minutes.
Those saves didn’t merely preserve a victory. “If they scored and forced a draw, they would have gone to the semifinals on points,” Gray said.
West Virginia’s win over Virginia is a case of overcoming long odds. Consider this: In this state, ODP players in the north and south have separate training sessions and the two regions try to meet once a month. There are more than 16,000 registered players in the state’s youth soccer programs from which the ODP teams draw.
Virginia has more than 140,000 total players, nearly nine times more. With its population centers in Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Hampton Roads areas, their ODP teams can gather in one place more easily.
“The city of Richmond probably has more kids playing soccer than the entire state of West Virginia,” Gray said.
Team members, with their club affiliations:
Forwards/strikers: Hunter Klein (WVSC), Ben Hartiens (Tri County, Martinsburg).
Midfielders: Ian Duckworth (Mountaineer United, Morgantown), Colin Harvath (WVSC), Benjamin O’Dell (WVSC), Trey Short (Mid State, Buckhannon), Beau Simpson (WVSC), Constantine Svingos (WVSC).
Defenders: Lucas Gocke (WVSC), Noah Laliberty (WVSC), Austin Miller (WVSC), Justus Richmond (WVSC), Michael Shaffer (WVSC), Joseph Trupo (WVSC).
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.