"We didn't even think we'd make it to regionals, and we ended up in the national finals," Laverdure said. FC Revolution Dynamo finished as finalists in the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships in Overland Park, Kansas, culminating one memorable summer at the highest level of youth soccer.
"We didn't do it the easy way," Laverdure said. "It's been a roller-coaster. From May to now until we got back, it's been a fun up and down." Laverdure and his girls savored their time at the nationals. "It was a great experience," he said. "You never know, this could be the only time we go. So, you try to experience everything you can, try to have fun. It was like a big professional thing that the girls aren't used to. It was a big deal going to the Monday banquet and having 104 teams sitting there at this convention center. So, it was a big deal."
To appreciate FC Revolution Dynamo's success story, we should look at the team's path to the finals. "When the original schedule came out for the regionals, our name wasn't on it. It was just EDP wildcard or something like that," Laverdure said with a chuckle.
FC Revolution Dynamo certainly made a name for themselves at Regionals in West Virginia.
In the Region I tournament, the team defeated SJEB Rush 04 (New Jersey), 5-3, in its first Group C game, but was blanked by SOCA Elite (Virginia), 3-0, in its second match. Needing a win to reach the semifinals in its third and final contest, FC Revolution Dynamo shut down RVSC Select Riot 2004 (West Virginia), 5-0, to reach the final four.
There, the Pennsylvania side defeated Philadelphia SC Coppa Swarm 04 (Pennsylvania), 3-1, in the semifinals.
That set up a championship game showdown with Match Fit 2004 USYS (New Jersey) on July 3 as the Dynamo recorded a 1-0 victory. Natalee Vicari tallied the lone goal in the 41st minute.
Then came the team's biggest challenge -- the Nationals Championships.
"The teams we faced in the nationals ... everybody had a striker, everybody had a good midfield, everybody had a good defense," Laverdure said. "It’s just the girls were able to do special things on the defensive end or the offensive end that allows us to win these games. If you don't have the talented players, you're not going to go too far, and they were willing to commit to the team.
"You don't have to give a lot of direction because they know what to do on the field. They know what their positions are. They just go out and do it and they rise to the occasion."
In Kansas, the Dynamo had plenty of instances to rise to the occasion, dropping its opening Group B game to SC Waukesha 04 Blue, 3-2, on July 23. Vicari and Taylor Mentzer scored to give the team a 2-0 lead by the 14th minute before the opposing team scored three. Laverdure said his team got a bit tired in the second half.
"So, now the pressure’s on that we need to win the next day," he said.
On July 24, the Dynamo won over Sporting STL Red Devils (Missouri), 2-1, as Mentzer and Emily Vishio scored on either side of halftime.
The team still needed to win its third and final group match, which it did -- 3-0 over Utah Celtic FC (Utah), 3-0, as Vicari Ella Kardos and Victoria Reali found the net in the opening half on July 25 to reach the semifinals.
"Our goal was to win, but you want reach the semis," Laverdure said. "Winning two games, you have a real, real good chance of making that semi. We talked about before the second game. I didn't sugarcoat it. We need to win today or we're going to go home early. They stepped up big and won the second game. In the third game, we knew we were going to be in the semifinals if we won. If we tied, we needed help. For the girls, to focus and win two games, that's a testament to them."
That July 27 semifinal matchup was a nail-biter against 04 Boise Thorns Elite (Idaho) as FC Revolution needed penalty kicks after playing to a 2-2 deadlock in regulation and extra time. The Dynamo won in PKs, 4-3.
"It was a lot of pressure on 15-year-old girls in a national semifinal, going up there taking those kicks," Laverdure said. "That was our most memorable game because of all the pressure, drama."
In the July 28 final Mentzer continued her scoring heroics by connecting for her team-high fifth goal of the tournament in the sixth minute. "The team from Wisconsin was one of the best teams I've ever faced," Laverdure said. "Very technical, very skilled. They had the goalkeeper of the tournament and the girl who scored the most goals. So we were knew it was going to be a tough game."
It got tougher. With score tied at 1-1 with 20 minutes remaining in the first half, Dynamo goalkeeper Caitlin Williams got hurt as she landed on her knee. FC Revolution did not have its backup goalkeeper, so Laverdure was forced to put a field player in the net.
"She played great," he said. "She made some incredible saves. When we needed her, she made saves."
Now, FC Revolution had to play the rest of the tournament with their goalkeeper. Laverdure said. "The girls, the level just dropped. Your goalkeeper, who was outstanding the whole tournament, gets hurt. The coaches tried everything to pump the girls up you could see our level dropped. We were down 3-1 at the half, but we kept playing. Some of the girls kept fighting until the end. The other team was incredible."
Mentzer, a central midfielder, and Vicari, a striker, were named to the Best XI team of the tournament. "Natalee is a big strong forward," Laverdure said. "She's a handful up top. She can do either foot. Very powerful and strong. I can throw her at center back or center mid. A very versatile player.
"Taylor's very good at controlling the game as an attacking center mid, very good taking players on 1 v 1, distributing the ball, finding players. Our offense goes through her."
Laverdure also praised defensive midfielder Avery Makoid. He said defensive midfielders are ones "that parents and fans don't notice but coaches notice her."
"She's a very physical player," he added. "She puts out fires for our defense but also gets our offense going. She wins every head ball. She is a great 1 on 1 defender. When she gets the ball, she is very good at distributing the ball where it needs to go to. She also is a threat on corners and outside shooting."
The head coach also gave plenty of credit to the parents, who were forced to make some quick decisions when the team was placed in the regionals and then qualified for the nationals.
"Thanks to the parents," he said. "They sacrificed a lot. They did a lot of traveling, a lot of unexpected traveling the last couple of months. It was, 'Hey, in 24 hours, can you go to West Virginia for four days minimum and end up staying a week. and now two weeks later, we've got to go to Kansas. So, we did some fundraising to help the girls out to make sure that everybody can get there. They really pulled it together. Some changed vacations, some missed vacations."
FC Revolution Dynamo has been around for five years as Laverdure started the team at the U-10 level.
"We just kept adding players and players, "he said. "I tried to keep it loose. I don't yell a lot on the sidelines. I allow the girls to be themselves. They don't need any more pressure from me. So, I don't know if that translates if they go out on the field that they have freedom. They're not tense.
"The biggest thing, they can all play. They're all talented players. It doesn't matter what I do. If i don't have the talented players to do things ... We have a really strong defense and really good offensive players. It really all meshed well together. When their backs are against the wall, 'OK, we've got this, we've got this.' "
The team will get some respite from youth soccer as high school preseason starts later this month. Laverdure, who said he planned to attend some of his players' games, said the scholastic season ends around the middle of October. So, the team probably will get back together then.
"I told them to take two weeks off," he said. "High school soccer starts Aug. 12 around here. So, these girls need a little break and they're going to get right back into it."