Sunday, November 6 was a history-making day for SOCA as both the Elite U17 Boys and Elite U17 Girls won VYSA State Cup championships at the Virginia Soccer Training Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia. While SOCA has claimed three previous State Cup titles, this year marked the first time that a SOCA girls team has won a state championship. It was also the first time that the club won two titles in a year, let alone on the same day. To add to the uniqueness of the day, Dan Ensley, SOCA Director of Coaching, coached both groups to their wins, another first for the club.
On a bright, breezy autumn day, both SOCA squads demonstrated the range of skills, grit, tactical acumen and sheer determination required to win the State Cup.
The girls took the field in the morning with a 10:00 am kick-off against Arlington SA and began the game energetically. After a brief period of the two teams testing each other in the middle of the park, Erica Blankenship was played cleanly through on the left flank, where she deftly beat her defender and drove a low cross into the penalty area. The driven ball was deflected by a central defender and the misdirection fooled the goalkeeper, and so with 10 minutes played, SOCA was ahead by virtue of an own goal.
Much of the remainder of the half was played between the boxes as Arlington tried to get a foothold in the match. The SOCA midfield trio of Jane Romness, Katherine Brady and Gillian Borton put in exceptional work to battle for the midfield and launch occasional attacks on the flanks.
With the score at 1-0 to SOCA, the second half got underway with Blankenship shifted to a central midfield role and Abigail Gonzalez spearheading the attack. At the 50 minute mark, SOCA was on the board again, as Blankenship got on the receiving end of a corner kick, attacked the bouncing ball and blasted a volley into the net from near the top of the penalty area.
Trailing 2-0, Arlington redoubled their efforts and fought their way back into the match with a goal in the 72nd minute. SOCA was reinvigorated by the goal, regaining composure and taking control of the midfield. Romness and Borton found increasing opportunity on the flanks through Gracie Williams and Elizabeth Fabiano. In the central striker role, Gonzalez ran the Arlington defenders all around the park, applying relentless pressure while seeking the insurance goal.
After a flurry of attacking activity which forced several missed chances to put the match out of reach, SOCA settled in to confidently hold on in the waning moments to finish out the deserved 2-1 win.
The SOCA defense of Alyssa Gonnella, Shannon Moore, Julia Berg and Savannah Wilson, backed by keeper Jasmine Furin, were resolute throughout the match and did more than enough to hold off a feisty, athletic opponent.
After the joyous finish and awards ceremony celebration, Coach Dan Ensley had to regroup and reorganize his thoughts for the upcoming boys match. The SOCA U17 Boys faced off at 1:30, also against an Arlington SA group, whom SOCA had recently faced on two occasions. In both those matches SOCA had squandered a lead late in the game, and was looking to avoid a repeat of the trend.
SOCA began the match with near total control of play as the team sought to jump ahead early and stay in the lead throughout. Through the first 15 minutes, the locals were applying continued pressure on the Arlington goal, with Daniel Starr hitting the post and sending another just wide of the mark. SOCA maintained poise, pressure and control of the match, but was unable to find the opening goal. Campbell Brickhouse, Kyle Stenzel and Adam Moreland ran the midfield and combined with Starr to keep Arlington on their heels. At the 24 minute mark Arlington made a rare foray into the SOCA end, and were awarded a direct free kick from the danger zone just outside the penalty area. The ensuing shot clanged off the crossbar, well covered by keeper Ahmed Zaatar, had the ball been fractionally lower.
Again in the 31st minute, ASA culminated a rare attack with a dangerous long range shot that was parried to safety by Zaatar. The save would prove to be an important turning point in the match.
Seeing their opponent find dangerous opportunity with virtually no possession, the SOCA squad intensified their efforts. Off a free kick restart in the 39th minute, Daniel Starr did good work to hold off challenging defenders, maintain the ball with some nifty footwork and then slot the ball into the corner of the goal past the outstretched arms of the ASA keeper, to put SOCA ahead 1-0.
Early in the second half, SOCA looked to put the game away, and Brickhouse found himself with two well created chances that went unfulfilled. Against the run of play Arlington was able to mount an attack that resulted in another blast off the crossbar in the 53rd minute.
SOCA found themselves sitting deeper as the second half wore on, but despite giving up territory, they remained clearly dangerous on a series of counterattacks, particularly on the right flank. Defender David Smith was outstanding on the day, keeping the Arlington attack in check and launching counter-attacks from deep positions. The second goal seemed inevitable as SOCA created chances that were only missing the required final touch.
The breakthrough came at the 79 minute mark, with a beautifully delivered long, angled cross from right back Kyle Lehnert to the back post, where Aidan Folger simply out-jumped and out-muscled everyone around him to bang his header into the upper corner.
In the final minutes SOCA was determined not to let the game get away from them. SOCA completed a workman performance to close out the match with a comfortable 2-0 win.
Coach Dan Ensley was finally able to relax at the conclusion of the award festivities, having successfully lead his teams to double gold in a single day.
State Cup championships are coming with increasing regularity at SOCA. Last fall the U18 boys closed out their final year with the club with a Cup title as a memento. With five State Cup trophies now in the club’s collection, the objective will be to continually pursue the high level of performance the recent teams have demonstrated.
SOCA Elite teams are members of the CCL, the top youth travel league in the Virginia, DC, Maryland region. Eight of the ten VYSA Cup winners (age groups U15-U19, boys and girls) on Sunday are from the CCL. The medal haul is a continued convincing indicator of the quality of the weekly competition provided in league play.