Quite appropriately, the final of the Boys 15U tournament at the U.S. Youth Soccer Nationals came down to a pair of rivals that are about 30 miles apart.
PA Dominion FC
tussled for the trophy in Overland Park, Kansas on July 28 against fellow National League EDP Conference team Real Jersey. Unfortunately for PA Dominion, it dropped a 2-0 decision to Real Jersey, but the experience did not stifle the enthusiasm. "It's an honor to play in that tournament, proud of my guys," PA Dominion head coach Tom Quintois said. "It's an honor to play against Real Jersey. It's a big rivalry, one that is one very respectful against each other. Kids play hard against each other. We don't like them and they don't like us, and it's healthy in the right way and respectful, which I love. We're disappointed we didn't win the game and look forward getting back there, man. That's where we want to be."
Now, it's not every day two teams so close to one another tussle for a national championship. "It's pretty cool when you see two teams separated by 30 miles playing for the national championship," he said. "We have unfinished business. We are motivated to get back to that point. We know what it takes to get there, how hard it is. It's easy to say it. Executing is a whole other story.
"We play hard against each other. We've beaten them, they've beaten us. They have a national title. They have something we want and we're going to work really hard to get there." Still, the Eastern Pennsylvania team enjoyed one memorable tourney. PA Dominion got off on the right foot, recording a 2-0 win over Raiders FC - 2004 (Illinois) on July 23. Zach Morales and Michael Michalak struck within seven minutes of one another in the second half for the winners.
"It was a very evenly played game," Quintois said. "It's a very good team and very disciplined. It took us a lot of to get a result. It's the first game. We're a little bit nervous, they're a little bit nervous. But we got going. We scored a good goal in transition. That's the way we like to play. That game showed a 2-0 result, but it was far from a 2-0 result. We had to play our best and we did."
A day later, Quintois' squad secured another win by a two-goal margin, this one over Oklahoma Energy FC 04 (Oklahoma). After Ethan Lacher helped give PA Dominion a 1-1 halftime deadlock, James Barton and Zach Morales tallied in the second half en route to a 3-1 triumph.
"I would tell you that game was a lot closer than 3-1," Quintois said. "We started off a little bit sluggish They were all over us and they controlled a portion of that first half. In the second half we played a lot better. We started to play better in the second half. I felt at that point the team started to click a little bit. The nerves were gone. They could feel getting a win puts them into the final four. That was the goal of ours from day one was to get into that final four."
In the third match on July 25, PA Dominion and Downtown LVSC 04 Gold battled to a scoreless draw. "Both teams played really, really well," Quintois said. "Those are two evenly matched teams. We got them earlier in the year in Texas. and that game got a little bit away from them. That's a very well coached team and very organized. That was a real well played tie."
That set us the Pennsylvania squad for a rematch with PPA KSA 04 PRO-Profile, which lost to the Georgia side, 3-0 earlier in the year. This semifinal confrontation went in PA Dominion's favor, 2-0, although it took a while for the winning team to break through on July 27. Shane Velez struck in the 95th minute and Beckett Wenger added an insurance goal in the 105th minute. "We were really ready for that game," Quintois said. "KSA is one of the best teams in the country, hands down. They have a lot of good players on that team. They're very well coached. They can get you in so many ways. They're fast. We played a very good first half, but we played a really good second half. I felt we were really strong going into overtime. Beating them in overtime, I thought was the right result. We were the better team in overtime. Truth be told, it took a lot out of us. That was a lot of soccer."
Next up? Real Jersey for all the marbles. Real, however, prevailed behind a 2-0 win, scoring both its goals within a five-minute span in the second half on July 28.
"We were slow coming out of the gates and you can't play so against Real," Quintois said. "In the second half I don't think we had legs. They did. They were the better team on the day. They deserved it. They have experience, they're well coached. Very, very good players on that team. Two of the best teams in the country played in the right game at the right moment. It's good for soccer, good for our community at large."
Three Dominion players earned Best XI honors -- goalkeeper Ty Bleiler, defender back Dillon Barbeiri and Velez, a center back who is also a captain. "Barbeiri drew the assignment of the team's best player," Quintois said. "Against Real in the regionals, he had to deal with [one of their best players]. He had to deal with the best player from KSA. Not only is he a shutdown guy, he is also key to getting our attack. He really showed himself well as a hard-nosed tough defender but also skillful.
Ty Bleiler -- you really look at the amount of goals we've given up over the last year and the level that we're playing at, it's pretty impressive. He was fantastic at the states, regionals, nationals. I think he's one of the top goalies, if not the best in the country. He's really, really good. There's a couple of other guys who are with him, in EDP, ironically. He's not only a leader, he's tough. He's a kid that really anchors our defense.
"Velez is a quiet guy, silent, consistent. Takes care of the ball, reads the game brilliantly. He played like a captain. Consistently through the summer he was our best player. Those three guys are all a little bit different but all huge in who we are." PA Dominion has many talented players, but sometimes that doesn't make a team. Quintois’ players perform as one, not as individuals.
"We're a team and that's what makes us different," he said. There's a lot of good players on our team. We have special players, but everybody really plays together. They like each other, they play for each other. When you're talking about kids in an era, those things, those qualities get lost often. Our character and who we are is pretty impressive. We play down in a lot of games and that does not faze us. That's when character shows."
Quintois has given his team off until September, when it will start training game and start preparing for the US Youth Soccer National League.
"We start it all over again," he said.