With the dust settled after three days of round-robin play at U.S. Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championships this week, nine of the 16 New Mexico entrants are still standing.
Josh Groves, technical director for New Mexico Youth Soccer, said that that’s a pretty good success rate.
“I think overall we’ve done very well. We generally expect to get a number of teams into the quarterfinals and beyond,” Groves said. “Nine out of the 16 from a state the size of ours is a significant achievement.”
After a day off Thursday, things begin to get serious today. Quarterfinals kick off at 8 a.m. at the State Farm Soccer Complex, followed by semifinals Saturday. Championship games are scheduled for Sunday.
“The competition gets consistently stronger in any elimination tournament as you go along,” said Jim Tilley, executive director of the New Mexico Youth Soccer Association.
One of the New Mexico representatives on the boys’ side is the Elite FC Gladiators, the only remaining team from the Land of Enchantment to have won all of its first three games.
The Gladiators, an under-17 boys squad, defeated teams from Washington, Idaho and Nevada by a combined 12-3 margin.
It’s a team with a track record for success: The Gladiators have reached the finals or semifinals of the regionals in each of the past four years.
“Ever since we’ve been U-12 we’ve had goals of winning regionals. We’ve worked hard at it, and we’ve gotten closer and closer every year,” said Gladiators coach Gabe Nosseir. “Our goal is to not only win regionals, but to win nationals after that.”
Today they meet Utah’s Blue Knights 93 Premier at 10 a.m. A berth in nationals probably means going through at least one of the four California-based teams in the group, but Nosseir said he isn’t looking past today’s game.
“We played them (Utah) last year at regionals in California. They’ll be a tough team to try and break down,” he said.
NM Rush Nike 94G, a U-16 girls team, faces a stiff challenge against the unbeaten California South SD Surf White today at 8 a.m. Surf White did not allow a goal during the tournament’s first three days.
“They’re probably considered in the top five in the country,” said Rush coach Steve Kraemer. “I got to watch them play. Based on what I saw it will probably be the toughest game we have.
“My girls think we can beat anybody, which is a good thing. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The NM Rush finished 2-1 in round robin play, defeating teams from Nevada and Arizona while losing to California North’s Mustang Rampage.
Elite FC Barcelona produced the best round-robin record for New Mexico teams on the girls’ side, finishing 2-0-1. Barcelona, a U-14 team, defeated teams from Hawaii, Alaska while battling to a draw with Idaho’s Boise Nationals en route to today’s quarterfinals. They play California South’s Arsenal FC at noon.
All told, five boys teams and four girls teams from New Mexico have the opportunity to advance to the U.S. Soccer Youth National Championships — held in Overland Park, Kan., in July — by winning their groups.
For the boys, the other teams still playing are: Rio Vista FC 97 (U-13), NM Rush Argonauts (U-16), Rio Vista FC 92 (U-18) and NM Rush Red Star (U-19). Rio Vista FC Zia 97 (U-13) and Alameda SC Flash (U-19) are also still alive for the girls.