Mockingbird just misses out on Phoenix flight . . . but success on the horizon, believe coaches

Both Kentucky and Indiana will be without representatives at the U.S. Youth Soccer national championships for the second successive year, but a few came close to making the trip to Phoenix.

Mockingbird U18 girls made it to the final decider at the Midwest Region II championships in Appleton, Wis., but lost out to FC Milwaukee, 3-1.  

University of Louisville-bound Casey Whitfield — a product of Manual High School — got the lone Mockingbird goal to make her top scorer at the U18 level with seven goals in five games.

It is the first time Mockingbird has had a representative in the regional final and coach Jonathan Velotta said he was “extremely proud” of the team’s performance.

“Over the course of five games, we played with a lot of composure, focus, and commitment,” he said.

“Before the season started, our goal was to reach the regional final and to accomplish that goal is truly remarkable. We were obviously disappointed in the result, but FC Milwaukee was a deserving winner. The success of our team over the last three years has set a higher standard for girls’ club soccer, and for our club.”

Velotta added that the success of the ‘93 girls at regionals will undoubtedly raise the profile of MVSC both locally and within the region.

“The players on this team have served as great role models of our younger players and have raised the standard for all of our teams. The team has had consistent success against some of the best clubs in the nation for the past few years and helped our club gain more credibility.”

Javanon, meanwhile, had three teams make the semifinal stages, two of which had local representation.

Two-time national finalist Javanon ‘92 boys, featuring Jeffersonville’s Trevor Bruner, lost their last competitive game on penalty kicks to KCFC Force in the U19 age group.

Javanon ’94, with the Southern Indiana trio of Nick Blackwell, Matt Kelecy and Jordan Vejar amongst its ranks, was edged out, 2-1 by Grand Rapids Crew of Michigan, who went on to retain its crown.

The fourth team to get past the bracket stages was Javanon ’97 girls, which lost to Kings Soccer Academy of Ohio South 3-1.

Of the 14 Region II champions crowned, eight were from Illinois, two each were from Minnesota and Michigan and one each came from Kansas and Wisconsin.

For “Illinois,” read Chicago, with Eclipse Select (three, all girls), Fire and Magic (two each) and Sockers FC (one) dominating.

So should those involved in the game in Kentucky and Indiana be disappointed about not having a representative or two at the past two national championships, or was success in the past just a case of teams punching above their weight?

There were some interesting comments on the HoosierFutbol.com website forums after the event.

“Straight Up” said that the lower populated areas, including Indiana, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Kansas, will generally be less successful than some of the more populated states and cities, such as Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Missouri.

“Indiana’s 91s, 92s, 93s and even the 94s all had way above-average success at regionals,” Straight Up said. “And if you look at the results this past time, there were quite a few teams in favored positions on the last day of pool play, only to fall short. Indiana soccer is alive and well. We are not Illinois and we never will be unless our population density changes with respect to our counterparts.”

“Reality” said other states play a more physical, more intense style of soccer at an earlier age, while another said there are too many clubs, diluting the talent.

Kentucky seems to be in the same boat, but has fared better in recent years, especially in the older boys’ realm, where it has a full pool of the area’s best players to choose from in the U16-U18 levels because of the absence of a development academy.

Many see academies like Indiana United as the way forward for elite player progress. But whatever their advantage, they eliminate the cream from playing for a club in the U.S. Youth Soccer championships.

In Louisville, having more teams play in the Midwest Regional League and top tournaments has helped some squads compete with the best on a year-round basis, preparing them for state, regional and possibly beyond.

Other than the achievement of Mockingbird ’93 girls, going out to a defending regional champion while playing with 10 men and being a goal up (a la Javanon ’94), or missing out on a final berth due to penalty kicks (Javanon ’92) suggests the game in these parts isn’t in too bad a shape.

And then there’s United 1996, which has emerged as the main boys’ force in Kentucky after it took four of the seven state titles between U13 and U19 this year.

None of its teams got out of the bracket stages, and while founder Muhamed Fazlagic told “Kick It” they were “very pleased” with their performance as a whole — given the number of injuries to impact players — they were also slightly disappointed with their U16s, a team of which much was expected.  

“I don’t think they reached their performance level at all at the tournament,” he said. “All other teams had a much better tournament in every aspect.”

The future is bright, though, said Fazlagic, as recent local success — especially in the past two years — has attracted a great number of athletes to the club.

“We will not change much in our philosophy, where the main objective is individual player development. But with an improved players’ pool, I think we are much closer to the title at the regional level,” he said. “My personal prognosis is that it will happen in a two-year time frame.”

Which seems to give credence to the dilution suggestion, perhaps. That is, that talent is there, albeit on a smaller scale to the Chicagos of this world. And all that needs to happen with that said talent is if you want to beat the best and bring in the hardware — whether you agree with or not — is to have it deeply concentrated at fewer clubs.

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