It's not always easy being one of top youth soccer teams in the nation —there's always a target on your back. At one time or another, STA-MUSC
2003 16Us, Arlington SA
2002 Boys Red and Millstone United
Eagles 18Us have been the best team in the nation.
Arlington head coach Eduard de Souza who's team are taking part in the US Youth Soccer National League EDP South Atlantic Conference, has reminded his players that with a big reputation there is the big responsibility of living up to the hype and playing well.
"Every team that plays us, they want to beat us, that's just going to make us better" he said. At the end of the day, I coach them because I want them to go to college. When you have the best team, a lot of colleges are going to come and watch you." But the book has been closed on 2018 and it's up to Arlington to start writing some new chapters. "Every game, every day is a different story," de Souza said. "This year we start from zero again."
While sitting on top of the mountain is an excellent accomplishment, coaches realize their teams must constantly prove themselves on the field. "I try not to put too much into rankings because I don't think it’s the best way to tell who legitimately is the best team," said STA-MUSC head coach Shane Bullock. "That being said, regardless of that, I think the group has set high standard for itself that we are competing every competition that we're in. It’s not as straight forward as that. Soccer is not played on paper. We're going to put ourselves in the best position possible. We're going to work extremely hard this season to try and achieve those goals."
On any given day, any of the top five teams can emerge victorious. "That's absolutely the case," said Millstone head coach Sadri Gjonbalaj
, a former U.S. international player. Gjonbalaj's squad are participating in the upcoming US Youth Soccer National League EDP South Atlantic Conference this spring. "It'
s what team is better prepared that day that will win games." *(more on Gjonbalaj's US career at bottom of article).
Goals for 2019
All three coaches have some lofty goals for their teams this year, whether it is winning their respective state cups, regional titles and even a national championship.
STA-MUSC competed in the US Youth Soccer National League EDP Conference last year, so Bullock knows what the upcoming challenges are all about and the team's goals are within reason—"...things that we can achieve realistically," he said.
"We want to make sure we can win our National League EDP Conference" he added. "We want to make sure we win the State Cup for the regionals with few understandings that are few guarantees. We have to work hard."
Gjonbalaj, whose Millstone United team will participate in the 18U National League EDP Conference age group, is hoping for some big things this season.
"I do want to be the best team in the country. Obviously, that's my goal," he said. "Are we going to accomplish that? I don't know. There's a lot of great teams around here. You've got to get 11 kids on the field to work as a unit if you really want to win championships. It doesn't just happen. There are so many great teams that don't win championships because they're not playing consistently for 90 minutes as a unit. I’ve got some good players, but it’s going to take all 11 kids playing good ball all 90 minutes if you want to win championship."
De Souza's 17U Arlington squad felt that for his team to be successful over the long run, it had to be humble. In fact, the Brazilian native felt that was the strength of his team as he reminded his side what the Brazilian national team faces every time it walks onto the field.
Playing under Pressure
"Take a look at the Brazilian national team," he said. "Every year they need to win or they're bad. So, I tell [the team] on a smaller scale here, you are that, you are that target right now because you put yourself in that position. I think my team understands that. They are humble enough. they want to work hard. They are in the age group, too, that they know haven't yet committed to college, so they want to prove themselves. I think that's what makes my team good.
"I like their attitude. A lot of times teams start to have success and it goes to their heads. 'We don't need to worry about.' So, we train hard every time. I make them very accountable. You miss training, you're not going to play. ... I want them to get an opportunity. You never know. We had a player on the team last fall he turned his ACL. I told the guys, 'Ask him how he feels, that he's not part of the team now. We're setting up to get recruited and he's not part of it because he's injured. So, put yourself in his shoes, how much you would give to be in practice every day, to be traveling, to be in those tournaments. I think they start to get that."
All three coaches agreed that the caliber of play in EDP has been high class. "The competition is excellent," Gjonbalaj said. "We play teams from all over the country as well as Canada. Fortunately, most of the strong teams are right here in the Northeast -- New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Virginia. So, we don't have to go too far to play some of the best teams in the country."
Said Bullock: "There's good parity, generally. The quality and competition week in and week out. The most important thing is that we're developing the team. A lot of these guys are looking collegiately at the next step."
Added de Souza: "EDP is always challenging. Last year we ended up losing game against a good team in the final, but I think we were better. "It's good, the competition. You get different styles. When you go up north sometimes you get teams from Cincinnati or New Jersey. It's such a melting pot over there. It's good. It's always a challenge and I’m looking forward to play."
*One of Gjonbalaj's best moments for the US National Team was his first international goal for the United States in its 1-0 international friendly victory over Jamaica in High Point, N.C. on Sept. 14, 1991. It was Gjonbalaj's second cap. "If I was pessimist, I wouldn’t have take soccer that seriously (at a younger age). But I knew what my goal was and I knew what I had to do to get there."
Then 25, Gjonbalaj found the back of the net in the 38th minute. Paul Caligiuri started the scoring sequence by shuffling a free kick to Hugo Perez at the top of the penalty area. The veteran midfielder lofted the ball into the penalty area as Gjonbalaj headed it home from 10 yards to the right of the net. "It was an excellent ball," Gjonbalaj said. "It was curving away from the keeper and he was caught in no one's land. It was tremendous."