Braddock Road Youth Club’s 95 Elite girls squad had already enjoyed a stellar season before heading to South Carolina for the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships, having won the Virginia State Cup and the Region I title. And given the bearish schedule they drew for the national finals at Manchester Meadow in Rock Hill, S.C., the Springfield, Va.-based team had reason to moderate their expectations and celebrate what they’d achieved to that point.
Playing a three-game slate as part of a six-team group, BRYC 95 Elite were drawn against Legends FC, a strong Southern California outfit which had already defeated BRYC 3-2 in National League play earlier in the season, Region III champions CESA Elite 95 Premier – who effectively had home-field advantage in Rock Hill – and Region IV champs Mountain View-Los Altos Lightning, another California powerhouse who’d beaten Braddock Road at the PDA Showcase tournament in New Jersey over Memorial Day weekend.
“When we first saw the draw we were like, ‘Oh, my gosh,’ BRYC 95 Elite coach Larry Best told The Soccer Wire on Monday. “But hey, you’ve got to roll it out there and play and see what happens, right?”
Best’s squad did exactly that, and were richly rewarded. They hammered Legends 4-0 in their opener, paced by two goals from Adrienne Maday on Wednesday in humid conditions that ground down the Californians as BRYC kept ball possession and made them chase.
BRYC then overcame an early deficit against CESA to win 3-1 the following day, and this time it was Kahla Seymour, Potomac Soccer Wire’s Korrio Player to Watch for July, who struck for two goals.
“She’s had a fantastic year and she’s a young ’96, so she’s maturing in a lot of ways both on and off the field,” said Best of Seymour. “She’s a tough kid to deal with, and when she’s on, she’s a handful.”
Two wins in their first two games left both BRYC and MVLA in the unusual position of knowing they’d meet in the championship final before they played one another in their third group match. It left both coaching staffs with a tough choice to make.
“We took it as, we’re going to take it easy, we’re going to take our foot off the gas pedal, whatever the result is, it is, because we figured we would be ready to play on Sunday,” recalled Best. “You’re kind of rolling the dice about what’s the best way to prepare. They prepared as to come out normal and they played basically their same lineup, their starting crew, and really went after it, and they destroyed us.”
Best rested several of his impact starters and fielded a 3-5-2 formation – “playing a three-back against them is probably suicide,” he admitted – and BRYC duly found themselves trailing 3-0 at halftime, eventually losing by a final score of 4-0.
“We decided on Friday, it’s a meaningless game, for the most part we’re through, why don’t we rest some kids?” he said. “And obviously the kids we rested are big-time players. So that was our mental approach, and we make sure the kids understand that’s what we’re doing…Our kids hate to lose, but at the same time, they understood.”
BRYC and MVLA Lightning met again on Sunday morning, and like their Memorial Day showdown at PDA, a hard-fought match with lots of quality play unfolded.
“They beat us 1-0 [in New Jersey] but it was a very even game, and the interesting thing was, viewing that game and the game on Friday, the 4-0 game, they played exactly the same,” said Best. “So we’re thinking, ‘This has got to be everything they have.’ So on Sunday we were prepared.”
Coached by U.S. Under-17 Women’s National Team boss Albertin Montoya and his wife Erin, Lightning are one of the most feared teams in the nation and, like the rest of MVLA SC’s premier squads, will compete in the Elite Clubs National League next season. But they had no answer for an inspired performance from BRYC Elite, who pitched a shutout that enabled a second-half goal from Maday to earn the Virginians a national title.
“I still think they’re the best team in the country. If they played us 10 times they’d probably beat us nine, but yesterday was our day,” said Best.
“MVLA is good – when I say the top team in the country, I mean including everybody, including ECNL teams. They’re an outstanding group and they’re so well coached, so well organized. Yesterday just seemed to be our day. We can play with anybody – doesn’t mean we’re always going to win, but our group is a group of talented soccer kids. They just love the game and they’re all soccer junkies.”
A national championship meant even more given BRYC 95 Elite’s long history and tight bonds. Captains Kaleigh Riehl Annaugh Madsen and Carlyn Baldwin have been with the team since ages seven, eight and nine, respectively, and even a more recent arrival like holding midfielder Sydney Burger enjoyed her experience enough for her family to delay their relocation to California in order to take part in the regional and national tournaments.
“Her dad is an Air Force pilot,” explained Best. “They were supposed to leave right after the school year. We actually made her captain in the first game [at nationals], on Wednesday.”
Now BRYC will try to maintain their excellence through the next two years, with most of the team set to make college commitments over the next six months to a year. East Coast powerhouses like Virginia, Maryland and Wake Forest are among the schools vying to become future destinations for the members of this special group, a young unit which includes only one 2013 high school graduate.
“We think this team has a lot of potential to move forward, but it’s a funny game sometimes,” said Best. “You never know. We’ve had some great breaks this year, the soccer gods have looked out for us and good things happen to good kids.