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US Youth Soccer National League EDP Conferences - Mid Atlantic Wrap-Up

By Michael Lewis, 12/13/18, 10:30AM EST


US Youth Soccer National League MID Atlantic EDP Conference Wrap-Up

Real Jersey 13U Girls Dominate with Tough, Hard-working GRoup in


In his team's first tournament of 2018, Real Jersey FC 2006 coach Rusty Aaronson had a really good inkling as to how special his team was. Real New Jersey was ready to participate in a Showcase in the eastern part of Massachusetts during St. Patrick's Day weekend, though Aaronson could not help but notice the challenging playing conditions.
It was cold, and there were 20-foot snow banks.
"I couldn't believe they were going to play this tournament," he added. "The windchill factor was six degrees. I actually called the tournament director and said, 'Hey, is this tournament still on? It's 14 degrees as the high.' And the guy told me it will be 20 when the sun's out. I actually was fighting with the guy, saying, 'I don't think it is safe that our kids come up.' But listen, the show goes, on, right?"
"I had a few girls that went out there in refused to wear under armor," Aaronson said. "That's what I'm dealing with. So, I mandated it the second game, it's just not safe enough. That's kind of a glimpse inside of what I'm working with. They're just a really good group of girls, just physically, mentally tough, and they're competitors.
"The thing I love about them is that they're super smart and super intelligent on top of that. They're a dream and I've had really good teams with this club."
Not surprisingly, that early success spilled over into the season. Real Jersey recorded an 9-0 mark in the US Youth Soccer National league EDP Mid-Atlantic Premier I, reeling off eight consecutive shutouts before surrendering its first and only goal with five minutes remaining of its final match, a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia Coppa FC Elite at Bob Bende Park in Medford, N.J. on Nov. 27. The side outscored its opposition, 16-1.
"That tells you the passion in which these girls defend, which is really important," Aaronson said. "It was a really good competitive game. It was a great finish to a really good season. I was very pleased."
In so many ways.
Aaronson particularly was encouraged on how his players picked up his teaching and tactics.
"Result-wise it was a real good season, but most importantly for the team and for me as their coach and instructor," he said. "I think more than the results the team had flashes of brilliance in regard to the way they were playing. And at a young age, I think it's really important that teams see that, and they go through that where everything that we're teaching them, comes together, whether its one game out of 10 or five games out of 10. If what we're teaching them both physically and mentally in regard to the game of soccer comes together in those flashes, then they just feed off of that. Then it's a really good teaching moment. We had several of those moments throughout the fall season. I've coached teams where you get a little of that. We had almost full games where this team just went out and excited and just were brilliant. Defensively, offensively. It's tough. When that happens as a coach, you just sit there and you say, 'Wow! We're really making some strides.' "
Aaronson said he was impressed with his team's mental toughness. "The mental toughness is something that you see it with individual kids, but rarely do you see it with 12- to 15-year-kids. I have that right up and down the roster. Our training environment is a little different than a lot of other clubs in terms of we're not a giant club. We're a smaller club. We only have 13 teams, but all of them are really good especially at the young age groups and it allows me to get the girls different looks, some different trainers, some guest trainers.
"Some kids who have done really well for the club have moved up and played for the national team and are playing professional right now and come down and jump in when we're doing drills. It really creates a pretty neat little culture. But we have training sessions where we actually have to tell the girls to calm down a little bit . I love the fact that I have to tell them 'Hey, easy we have a game in two days.' "
As club technical director and president, Aaronson said that "we instill a philosophy from the top down we want to play attractive soccer."
"We also want to play aggressive, attacking and sometimes that all doesn't come together," he said. "This team is a special team because they're super technical and a lot of them have real good super brains. I have a really good mixture of athletes, of really tough kids and some smart, smart soccer players. So the brains have to work in order for us to teach the style that we want to play."
A few weeks ago, Real New Jersey captured the New Jersey Girls U-13 State Cup, avenging a 1-0 lost in the 2017 competition to Cedar Stars. This time the score was reversed as Real tallied in the final minutes.
"The game could have gone either way," Aaronson said. "It was a pretty even match. Early on, I thought we had some good chances, but it was just one of those games with two good teams battling and we ended up getting one at the very end and the girls were just over the moon on that one."
So many players made contributions during the season, Aaronson said he felt it would be unfair to single anyone out.
"You know, if you asked me that a year ago, I probably would have given you three or four," he said. "But this year, I had girls step up. Some girls when the season ended last year, we had some girls that I was concerned about that may fall off a little bit this year and we had conversations with them. They took the summer and they really worked getting better. Three of them went from the middle of the pack to my top six, which that's the way it should work.
"In a competitive environment, good players pull some of the ones on the bottom and in the middle and that should flip-flop. A few girls grew a little bit, a few girls got a little more coordinated. Whatever the factor, whatever happened, I can tell you the ones that moved from the middle of the top put in the work and it was nice to see. Up and down our roster, it would be unfair to single one person out because I think they all stepped up."
After calling it a season, Aaronson has given his side some much needed rest and recover from some injuries suffered during the fall. He noted that some girls are dual-sports athletes and play basketball during the winter.
Recently, the team got together and "played a little fun futsal against the boys," he said.
"We have a club culture here where we're always going, but ... I would like them to shut down a little bit," Aaronson added. “We're never completely shutting down. We'll get started again after the new year. Right now, its rest, relax. Those who want to play a little futsal, go ahead. Nothing really organized and then we'll pick it back up, Jan. 10."

Watchung Hills - NJ Elite 13U Boys take Division 1 Crown with Team Performances in


There are so many ingredients that go into a winning team. Talent, teamwork and individual skill are among those vital parts to the equation.
The Watchung Hills NJ Elite 13U team has all three, plus a fiery passion for the game. Head coach Jordi Meijer sees it in not only games, but at training as well. Not surprisingly, that propelled NJ Elite to the US Youth Soccer National League Mid-Atlantic EDP Conference Boys 13U fall season crown.
"The passion for the game from these kids is phenomenal," Meijer said. "They live and breathe soccer every day. They're always ready to work. Practice sessions are intense as games, so it makes it a lot easier for them to progress throughout the season."
All the way to the top of their conference.
Passion is important in just about anything we do. For young athletes it could mean the progression to a higher level in the sport, whether it be high school, college, amateur or pro.
Meijer was quite impressed with what his players know about the beautiful game. "They know everything," he said. "They know all the stats, they know the schedule for EPL, for the Champions league, for the Bundesliga, the Spanish league. They know it all. Often times they more about European soccer than me and I'm from Europe [the Netherlands]. They're always on top of it and it just kind of shows that love for the game. These kids are never pushed into practice. They're never pushed to work hard. They have that drive within themselves and that's ultimately going to make them successful on whatever they're going to do."
Right now, it's all about school work and their favorite game—soccer. "As a coach, it gives you energy to work with kids like that," he said. "They're just so gung-ho on learning and going and playing against each other."
In fact, after training sessions, it’s not necessarily easy to get the NJ Elite players off the field. Meijer usually has a training session with his 2001 girls team.
"Twenty minutes into my '01 warm-up they're still out on the field kicking the ball around," he said. "They're still out on the field. I need the field space. These kids are always there, they're a half an hour, 20 minutes early. They always stay a half an hour, 20 minutes later, just kicking the ball around. Completely uncoached, completely uninstructed, on their own."
That helped translate into a 7-1 season as the New Jersey side outscored its opposition, 24-6, while recording five shutouts. NJ Elite started out slowly. "Result-wise it didn't go well but we just made some adjustments in players and positions and from that point on, it kind of clicked," he said." The team defeated Real New Jersey in its league opener, 2-0, on Sept. 9.
"The confidence was there," Meijer said. "We dominated the game and I don't think they looked back from that point on. I think they really built that trust and believed in themselves and really kind of pulled that through."
Of course, there were some challenges along the way. Like many teams moving into the 13U age division, NJ Elite went from 9 v 9 to 11 v 11. "The expectations were set relatively realistically to give the kids time to adjust," Meijer said. "They adjusted really well. Never really missed a beat in the league or in the State Cup as well." NJ Elite won the New Jersey Youth Soccer Association State Cup in its age division.
There was another factor in the mix -- Meijer, NJ Elite director of coaching, was new to the team. So, he had to get to know his players.  "I am the DOC for the program, so I knew the kids, but not in the day-to-day form in terms of working with them," he said. "So my expectations was really just to get them adjusted to playing 11 v 11, having them adjust to new formations and new roles within the team and obviously having them adjust to me as a coach and the coaching style."
Since the team was played with a larger lineup, Meijer brought in more players to fill out the roster. And, they had to fit into his coaching philosophy and playing style.
"The players we brought in were really team players," he said. "They fit in with the process that we're setting up with these guys. So that made a big difference. They weren't individuals looking to go for their own glory. Everybody was on aboard with working as a team and learning the concepts of the game."
So, Meijer couldn't have asked for a better transition on and off the pitch. "It went pretty smooth," he said. "My expectation was not to set out and win the league because the league was so stacked with so many great competitive teams, really good teams. It was just to compete, to make sure we were in the games. Honestly, some games could have gone either way. And, they might in the spring and we might not end up in first place. But that's OK. As long as we're competitive, I'm fine with that."
One of the bigs keys to the team's success was that the players performed not individual glory. "We're not dependent one or two players," Meijer said. "Physically we're a very small team. The games that we have struggled have been against teams have been physically bigger than us. The boys have really learned to take the physicality out of the game by really having the team concept, positionally.
"Obviously, there's room for improvement. but they've shown progress in that already where they can move the ball and not let the big physical players push them off the ball. The ball is always moving quick. Technically, we're a very sound team. We're technical players."
Meijer declined to single out any player for his squad's success during the fall season. "If there was one player that we were really dependent on, it would have really jumped out at me," he said. "We've had kids injured who have been contributing with a lot of goals and a lot of playing time and we really didn't miss a beat."
NJ Elite had only 15 players on its fall roster for a purpose "because I didn't want to go necessarily to 18 kids on our roster if they weren't all competitive with each other," the coach said. "I don't really have a weak link on the team," he added. "It allows me to rotate, it allows me to keep fresh legs in."
After completing the fall season, the team took a couple of weeks off before returning to outdoors training. Meijer had plans for the squad to participate in some 3 v 3 and 7 v 7 tournaments to continue to learn "to take the physicality out of the game." In the spring, NJ Elite will turn its focus on the EDP season and the Region I tournament in June. 

Howell United 14U Girls clinch Division 1 Title with Strong Performances in tough


Howell United SC 14U Girls Fire has a history of starting seasons slowly. This past fall season the New Jersey-based side did something new—they got out of the gate quickly and never looked back en route to finishing atop the National League Mid Atlantic EDP Conference.
"We had a great season," head coach Petru Ion said. "We had a good start to the season in league play. This was our best finish." Howell usually finishes in the middle of the table. This was the first time the squad celebrated a championship.
Ion said it was "not easy to do because the league and especially the division that we played in in my opinion was one of the best if not the best from top to bottom." "So even the teams that finished towards the bottom were really good teams, competitive teams that they would play other competitive teams from other competitive divisions and do really well. I think the team that finished last in our division is the second ranked team in Eastern Pennsylvania. That how tough it was."
Despite not having any easy games or teams, Howell finished the fall campaign with an 8-1 mark, while outscoring the opposition, 32-7. "We've always been historically a high-scoring team," Ion said. "We just play very attacking, don't really sit back, try to push forward with everything we have. I've had other coaches tell me after we played them -- good coaches and good teams -- probably coaches with more experienced than I have -- 'We really enjoyed playing you guys because you really play, really try to play. You don't sit back, you're not clearing the ball, you're not trying to disrupt the game, you're trying to build the game.'
"By doing that, we scored a lot, but we also gave up a lot of goals. So, that's why were never able to make that leap to be first or even second in the first division. Our best finish in first division in the EDP or National League has been fourth. So we're sort of a middle of the pack team."
Well, not anymore. The difference between Howell teams of the past and now? This year's team was buoyed by an outstanding defense and goalkeeping.
"They really grew up as a group and took that next step," he said. "They were tougher. They were more resilient. I don't know how to describe them. Part of it was the growth spurt, too, because we were at that age, we are a young team. We have quite a few players who are playing up. So we're always on the smaller side. They've had the growth spurt. They've been able to have besides the skill, now to be able to physically on their own and not get pushed around. That made a big difference this season. To be able to match up when it comes to the physicality and toughness, that was the difference-maker overall, to be able to have that consistency." The season prior, Howell outscored its foes, 28-19, which meant the team was involved in many close encounters.
"It's not just the defense, it’s the midfielders as well, coming back and helping, coming back and defending," Ion said. "The team is a very hard-working, resilient team. It's a team that practices really well and we have really high intensity at the practices where there is not a lot standing around, there's not too much talking or over-explaining."
Actually, Ion has stressed to his players on excelling on the basics. "As a coach, my philosophy is to teach, to show for them to be able to do all the basics well," said Ion, who has directed this side since it was a 8U team.
He felt that has been a vital part of the team's success. "So, it's nice to have that continuity, that consistency," Ion added. "We see a lot of the teams that we've played over the years, they've changed coaches almost like they're pro teams, at the youth level. So this coach is gone, he's gone from this academy to that academy and now from this academy to that academy."
"I am a stickler for getting all the basics done right, being able to do all of the basics well before trying anything else. Yes, creativity is good, and I encourage the players to do that, but I'd like them to do all of the basics really well first. And to retain those I always tell them, when you watch a pro game, how many truly fancy dribbling moves do you see the pros do—if you watch the game, they do all the basics extremely well. They're really good with their first touch. They're good at passing the ball. They've got to play with their head up. That's all the things I try to really over-emphasize with the team. It’s helped them to be the team they are."
Another key to Howell's success was its high fitness level. Many games would be close or tied entering halftime before the girls’ side would pull away in the second half. That doesn't happen by chance, but by good training by the players, who take care of themselves off the field as well.
"Our practices, the intensity level," Ion said. "There's not a lot of down time. There's always movement and the girls are pretty gassed after most practices and I think it shows when we play in our games, especially in the second half. So, I think that was a difference maker as well. A lot of our games was close at the half. Always seemed to be pull away or be better on the scoreboard than the opponent in the second half."
After completing the fall season in November, Ion gave his team two weeks off before resuming training and then playing in an indoor league over the winter. "I am firm believer that they needed that," he said, especially on how hard we work."
Howell is hoping to gain acceptance into the National League. "It will be a huge accomplishment for a local township club team like ours that doesn't have the resources some of the academies have," Ion said. "In soccer, the only resources you need to have is good training, a field and a soccer ball."
Add a focused, knowledgeable coach and talented, fit players and you have Howell United SC Fire.

STA-MUSC 14U Boys Finish First Thanks to Squad Depth and Talent in


The fall season turned out to be a successful one in so many ways for the STA-MUSC 2005B team. The New Jersey-based club was finally developing an identity and on the field, they had just won the U.S. Youth Soccer National League Mid Atlantic EDP Conference Boys 14U crown.
"We did well, we did well," head coach Tom Bray said. "I was very proud of the boys. They worked hard. In truth, they deserved it. They played some good soccer. I'm really pleased for them."
The team was, well, a true team. Sometimes squads will put its hopes on a high-scoring striker or playmaking midfielder who is adept at setting teammates up for goals. Not this squad.
"In previous years, we were always talented, but it's been kind of a culmination of hard work; every player gives fantastic effort. We now have a philosophy and a style of play that I feel we are indeed a good soccer team. We have an identity of a good team that passes the ball quickly. We've developed that we don't rely on a couple of players. You can find in this age group, at this kind of age that you have a couple of players who are your goal-scorers, you have a couple of defenders who you rely on...etc."
STA-MUSC has 21 players on its roster.
"Honestly, we have to sit three players for every game because we've got so many games," Bray said. "Everybody through the season made an important assist, an important tackle, or scored a goal. I think throughout the league season we've had 13 to 14 different goal-scorers. I don't think you get that a lot. The depth of the team and how everybody has contributed has been a big factor."
Prior to the fall season, Bray admitted he felt the team was going to play well, he just didn't know how well after coming "off a good season last year." The squad finished second to Ironbound, a big rival of STA-MUSC.
"I knew the talent was there," he said. "We had been knocking on the door for a while. Big wins and we've done well at tournaments. "The league was difficult because with the new format this year, which I completely welcome and was a breath of fresh air, we actually had some teams in the league which we never played and didn't know too much about," said Bray, citing PA Dominion as a prime example. "PA Dominion was a good challenge for us. They actually came in second. They were unbeaten as well."
The team won two early tournaments and STA-MUSC then put it together. "The players were surprised and happy," Bray said. "I thought we'd do well to win the State Cup and to win the league I think surpassed my expectations. I'm really pleased."
STA-MUSC welcomed four new players to the team, some from the club's 14U team, two from the outside, which Bray called the "missing pieces to our team." He liked the team's depth at every position. "If one player is not playing so well, there are other players who step up," Bray said. "It's kind of made everyone better. Going in I was quite confident that we would have had a successful season. What that would be I don't know. I did think we'd do pretty well in the cups. I was hoping we would make the semifinals at least."
One of Bray's advantages is that he coaches the Boys A and B teams at this level for the club. There are 40 players between the two sides.
"So, I have quite a unique perspective on it," he said. "There is movement between those two teams every year. Players who are not quite at that level go play with the B team. B teams players who are doing really well step up. It's a combination of that. We have had a few players who have stepped up from our lower team who have made an impact this year."
Now this might sound a bit unusual, but Bray said one of the most memorable points was a 2-0 loss to the Michigan Nationals in the EDP Cup in early October. "That was actually the turning point in our season because we had done well," he said. "We went into that tournament with 14-year-old boys. They're a little bit complacent. They thought they were a little bit better than what they were, and we came up against a really, really a top, top team from Michigan who had some fantastic players. We went down pretty early, but we played pretty well. but it was kind of a changing point in our season where we re-focused. The boys understood that. We had been on a good run. But despite how good they thought they were it was a definite opportunity to get better.
"There's levels and gears that we could still attain and get much better. There's so much potential with the team. Since that tournament we've been on a very good run."
In fact, STA-MUSC went unbeaten the rest of the way in the EDP fall season, finishing with an 8-0-1 mark, its lone blemish was a 1-1 draw at PA Dominion. The Jersey side outscored their opposition, 26-4, while registering five clean sheets.
Given that the team has had contributions from everyone on its roster, Bray didn't want to single anyone out. "Last year if you asked me that question, I could have given you a couple of names, easily," he said. "We do have a couple of kids that have actually made it to the final round of the id2 identification camp.  The best players were selected and they travel to Arizona to hopefully get selected for the id2 camp tours of Europe. Like I said everyone this season has contributed. Naming a few individuals wouldn't be a good representation of the team this year. The whole roster has stepped up. It's really been remarkable. I think all of them deserve recognition."
Bray loves soccer and so does his players. But he felt his team deserved some time off before getting back together for some indoor soccer and futsal this winter while resuming two-a-week practices in January.
"We play so many games during the fall," he said. "I like to give them a little bit of time off before Christmas and just let them recharge. Some of them enjoy basketball. The last thing I want to do -- and I've seen it so many times, is to overwork them, burn them out.
"I do like indoor soccer. With these boys it really develops their control. It transfers well when they go outside." STA-MUSC showed how well this fall.

For more information, visit the US Youth Soccer National League Mid Atlantic EDP Conference page.

For more on the US Youth Soccer and EDP Soccer partnership, visit our US Youth Soccer homepage.