Under-16 Boys Eastern Pennsylvania ODP coach Don Brady knew he had a special team back in February.
"(I saw it) at the Virginia Friendlies," Brady said. "I’m usually pretty cautious, but we never had our starting 11 at one time on the field, and I could just tell. So when we got into the (Region I) tournament, we were working really hard with one goal in mind."
The U16's accomplished that goal Sunday. They defeated Virginia, 3-1, in the final to capture the US Youth Soccer Region I ODP Championship, which draws state ODP teams from Maine to Virginia. The victory gives the team a spot in next year's US Youth Soccer ODP Championships, where they'll take on the champions of the three other regions.
The U16's had two motives entering the regional tournament according to Brady: "Play for a national championship and avenge last year."
The second bit of motivation came courtesy of a disappointing conclusion to the 2016 regionals. Virginia got the better of Eastern Pennsylvania in the semifinals; Brady called the group "snake-bitten."
This year the U16's returned the favor, although not without drama. Thomas Hoy, who plays his club ball for Lower Merion SC, opened the scoring early in the first half. That lead held deep into the game before Virginia forced extra time late.
Then Luke Greenberg took over. The attacker missed his fair share of chances in regulation, only to redeem himself when the team needed him most. He broke the deadlock just two minutes into extra time and later added an insurance marker to complete the 3-1 scoreline.
"Luke had been knocking on the door all day long," said Brady. "It was personal relief for him, but the whole team was elated."
The win capped a stunning run through the tournament for the U16's. They outscored opponents 16-3, the most impressive result a 3-0 victory over PA West in the semifinals.
Brady acknowledged sterling defensive play from center backs Carter Houlihan and Andrew Markopolous and goalkeepers Matt Zambetti, Zachary Raffino and Justin Grady. He also marveled at the team's dedication throughout the ODP season.
"It's a tough juggle," Brady said of balancing club, ODP and school commitments. "These kids are playing State Cup, EDP. They were always communicating what they could do."
Now, the U16's have a national championship to look forward to next winter. They'll try to replicate this year's U17 team, which claimed ODP's top prize in March.
"We celebrated and said next step is nationals," said Brady. "I think (U17 coaches) Gary (Stephenson) and Tom (Dodds) had a really good blueprint."