Qualifying for a national tournament without consistently playing together is thought of as quite difficult for any team. The Chicago Edge 2004 Division 14U NPL girls soccer team disproved that notion recently with their stellar play at both ends of the field. They recently qualified for the National Premier League Finals in Aurora, Colorado. The Chicago Edge 14U girls punched their ticket to Aurora, which is 10 miles east of Denver, by defeating the DG Roadrunners 1-0 to win the Chicago NPL championship.
Unlike many travel teams, which keep the same roster year-round, the Chicago Edge 14U team is a makeshift squad, composed of what head coach Gavin Richards described as mostly eighth graders with a few seventh and a few sixth graders.
"Basically, this team is a makeup of three of our girls' teams that play on the weekends," Richards said.
It was not a sudden qualification process for the team. The girls played eight games this past spring against eight different teams from the Chicagoland area in a qualifying division for the NPL Finals.
The girls finished with eight wins and just one loss by constantly playing attack-minded soccer coupled with excellent defense.
"We like to play attractive, attacking-style soccer," Richards said.
Richards' preference to play aggressive offensively is evident. Edge striker Julia Daun topped the division with 12 goals, while both Katherine Hoffman (6 goals) and Anne Stine (5 goals) finished as top-10 scorers in the division.
Scoring goals is not the only thing this team does well. According to Richards, their defense is quite stout.
"Lilah Gery (goalkeeper), Jasmine Davis, Tewa Schuster (center defenders) and Hailey Nowak (wide defender) led our defensive unit to an excellent record of only allowing 10 goals in 8 games against some very good opposition," Richards said. "Mallory Meadows, Sophie Payne, Johane Miller and Lily Rose Drews all played their part in helping the defense become a formidable one to play against."
The NPL itself is a group of the top club soccer leagues in the United States, which allows its players to continually develop as they play in a league-based competition format. Theses leagues are meant to teach the same style of play and techniques being taught at the highest levels of US soccer, in order to build the country's soccer identity.
After earning the bid to the NPL Finals, Richards wants his team to enjoy the moment and appreciate the fact that they qualified for such a prestigious event.
The finals, which are July 12-16, will be played at Aurora Sports Park. It's a spectacular 220-acre site that features 27 soccer fields and 12 baseball/softball fields. There are four flights with each one including four teams. The Chicago Edge, San Juan Spirits, Alleycats SC and SLSC Cosmos comprise Flight A. The Chicago Edge begin tourney play against the Spirits on Thursday, July 12 at 9 a.m.
"We very much deem it a success for us to have reached these finals," Richards said. "It's not an easy thing to get to, and we're going to be playing a very high caliber of teams. We know we're going to have to work very hard as a team. We must be very disciplined but still play our attacking style."
Richards has known many of these girls for years and has observed their development within the Chicago Edge program. While their soccer progression has been nice to see, Richards loves the fact that the girls have come together and built good relationships both as teammates and as friends
"As a coach that's one of the things you aim for, to see players come together both on and off the field," Richards said. "It's thrilling to see the girls improve their soccer game, but also to form life lessons and friendships that will go way beyond the soccer field."
The Chicago Edge 14U players are Katherine Hoffman, Taylor Reynolds, Olivia Kearns, Jasmine Davis (team captain), Hailey Nowak, Julia Daun (team captain), Lilah Gery, Johane Miller, Tewa Schuster, Mallory Meadows, Lily Rose Drews, Cate Ryan, Shane Colpoys, Caroline Leman, Sophie Payne, Anne Stine, Jackie Bollinger, Mia Dunavan and Meena Lee.
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