The feeling was a weird one, according to Heritage High rising sophomore Madalyn McGuire. After all her U-15 Colorado United team went 1-2 in pool play at the 12-team Region IV tournament. So how could it possibly advance to the eight-team quarterfinals at Arvada’s Stenger Soccer Complex?
For all intents and purposes it shouldn’t have. It had to have been fate.
“We all thought we were completely done. We were just kind of bummed,” McGuire said. “Once we found out we were in we were ecstatic. I had no idea that we would be put in. I had no idea how. But once we found out we were so happy.”
“It’s a great story of an underdog team coming in as wildcard through the regional tournament,” assistant coach and director of coaching for the U-15 age group John Senkosky said. “In our first game we didn’t play real well. There were a couple of questionable offside calls. Then we won the second game and the third game we lost that. Kind of at that point we thought we were out of it. Then we checked the scores and a lot of the scores were showing ties, which killed a lot of people.”
And they didn’t take their second chance at advancing to this week’s 2012 U.S. Youth Soccer Presidents Cup lightly. They just went out and won three consecutive elimination games on June 16-17 to capture the Region IV title and become one of four teams to advance to nationals in Sacramento, Calif.
Losses to Arsenal FC White (4-0) and FC Super Nova 96 (2-0) sandwiched around their lone win, a 4-2 decision over Infinity FC, was water under the bridge once Colorado United knew their national title hopes were still intact.
“We definitely mathematically needed a bit of help to get into the quarterfinals, but this team was prepared. This team was ready. This team understands how to play and how to compete,” head coach Sean Kelty said. “We knew that if we were to advance there was no reservations and no questions as to what we could accomplish. It was just a matter of us being committed to what we knew and how we know how to play.”
The reprieve certainly didn’t hurt United’s confidence at all.
“I think that was the changing point of the tournament. We played really (well),” Littleton High School sophomore-to-be Carli Murray said.
A third-place finish in Group B found them playing a familiar foe, Arsenal CO Royal, in the quarterfinals. It was Arsenal which defeated United in the State Cup finals last fall. But that loss, if anything, invigorated the team’s hopes that it could advance.
“Going in we weren’t scared. We knew when we lost to them that it wasn’t deserving. We felt that we deserved to win that game. We felt good about it,” Murray said.
Rightfully so after a 3-2 win got them into the semifinals.
As if that wasn’t enough, lady luck rode on United’s side once more as all three pool-play winners — Arsenal CO Royal, Arsenal FC White and CK United G96 — lost in the quarterfinals. The semifinal field was wide open now. It was anybody’s tournament.
United bounced KPSC Riptide 97G 3-1 to reach the finals, where it played arguably its best game of the tournament, beating Heat 97 4-0.
“It was kind of their destiny. Once they beat that Arsenal team it was kind of fate,” Senkosky said. “At that point they started believing in each other and they were even stronger than they were before.”
Now it’s on to California where they’ll begin round-robin play July 12. The top two teams out of the four will play in the national finals on July 15 while the others will battle for third place. But United may be the one team entering the field with not a care in the world.
“They’re pretty loose. They’re looking forward to it. We’re looking at it as a golden opportunity to do something at this level,” Senkosky said. “We’re just excited to have the opportunity to compete out there.”
But they also certainly aren’t taking the opportunity lightly. After all this is for the national championship. And considering what it took to get here there’s something special going on with the U-15 Colorado United right now.
“There’s a dangerous chemistry amongst not just the coaching staff and the team, but within the team itself,” Kelty said. “I think the team understands what their abilities are and the coaching staff is understanding how to facilitate that. We’re running on all cylinders right now.”