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National Champions: How the U17 Boys Claimed ODP's Top Prize

 
 
ODP National Champions
With victories over Georgia and Oregon, the Eastern Pennsylvania U17 Boys ODP Team claimed a National Championship (Photo: Karen Race)

Eastern Pennsylvania U17 Boys ODP coach Tom Dodds noted something different about his team entering the 2017 US Youth Soccer ODP Championships in Phoenix, Arizona. The boys weren’t finishing as well as they had last summer when they won the Region I title to clinch a spot at nationals, which features all four of US Youth Soccer’s regional ODP champions.

“We were getting a lot of opportunities,” said Dodds. “We were just missing. Sometimes it just happens that way. We were getting results, but we could have beaten every team by big numbers.”

The scoring touch, however, came back at the right time. The U17 Boys routed Oregon 7-0 in the final on Sunday, March 5 to win Eastern Pennsylvania’s first ODP Championship in 10 years. Nick Brison, of Kennett Square and Southern Chester County Soccer Association, scored a hat trick to front the attack. The victory capped a fitting end for a team that went undefeated in regional and national play—it kicked off this campaign with an identical 7-0 win back in June.

“Everything just came into place,” said Dodds. “(The players) were a little more composed, putting shots on frame and keeping it low.”

Despite the final result, the cross-country trip was anything but easy. The boys arrived in Phoenix on Thursday with a tough match against Team Georgia scheduled for Friday evening. They had time to practice and get acclimated to the climate and time difference, and yet the late kickoff posed a unique challenge.

“The semifinal was at 5:30 PM,” said Bryce Evans, who played the No. 6 role. “So we had all day to think about it.”

That may have led to Eastern Pennsylvania’s slow start. Georgia earned not one but two penalties in the opening 45 minutes. But thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Jacob Varrato, the boys were only down one at half. Varrato stopped both pk’s and was only beaten by a rebound shot on the second.

Those saves helped settle the group.

“Once we calmed down, we could tell we had the ability to win,” said Evans. “We weren’t going to leave Phoenix without a national championship.”

Varrato save

Jacob Varrato stopped two penalties in the semifinal win over Georgia (Photo: Race)

Darryl Longdon got the comeback going with a breakaway goal soon after the break.

Then Brison was fouled in the box to give the Pennsylvanians a spot kick of their own. Nick O’Donnell of HMMS converted to help send Eastern Pennsylvania to the final, a game that needed no build up, with a 2-1 win.

“I mean this is the biggest stage a lot of us have played on,” said Brison. “I was really pumped up before the game. We were excited. All the pieces fell into place. We just kept going at it.”

After some early Oregon pressure, Brison put Eastern Pennsylvania ahead five minutes into the game. He collected an Evans’ through ball and smashed a shot by the Oregon keeper. From there, everything went Eastern Pennsylvania’s way. Longdon scored a penalty, while Aaron Tylicki, on as a substitute, buried his first touch of the match.

Picture 2

Bryce Evans was a key contributor in the midfield (Photo: Race)

Tylicki then created an own goal when he went crashing into the box on a corner kick—4-0 at half.

Still, the 17’s weren’t comfortable just yet.

“It definitely felt good (to be 4-0 up), but (Oregon) had come back in their first game,” said Evans. “Once we put the fifth goal in, we were feeling pretty good.”

Matt Pron grabbed that crucial fifth goal before Brison completed his hat trick and that remarkable 7-0 score line.

“I felt like I needed to help the team win,” said Brison. “I was just trying to win the game. I wasn’t worried about getting the third goal.”

That doesn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate his achievement, on an individual or team level.

“It means everything. To be able to score three goals was outstanding,” Brison said. “It’s just one of those paths you feel like a dream a come true. It really is. To go from a small club in my town to winning a national championship is just crazy.”

The championship was won in Phoenix, but it was forged throughout the ODP process. The boys used trips to Virginia, regional camps and even the short stay in Arizona to build team camaraderie. It transferred to their play.

“I think you could see it on the field,” said Dodds. “Anytime you’re doing overnights, it helps. Going to Virginia, going to Phoenix, I think you can see the team growing together. I thought it was impressive—very good.”

As a bonus, all 18 players who traveled to Phoenix got on the field thanks to the blowout. Fellow coach Gary Stephenson remarked on the character of the group, which was equal to its performance.

“Throughout the year, especially in our time in Phoenix, we had complete strangers saying how well-behaved and well-mannered our kids were,” said Stephenson. “My response was always, ‘Thank you. You should see them play.’ They are great representatives of Eastern Pennsylvania on and off the field.”

This story will appear in the Spring 2017 Issue of Touchline. For information on how to receive a copy please contact Dillon Friday.

 

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