As the Grand Rapids Crew Juniors U-17 boys took to the field at the National Championship match on July 31, 2011 the team knew that this was the match that would allow them to make their mark on history. The journey to this point has been long and at times painful, a true test of courage and determination.
The team has qualified to compete at Nationals for the past four years. In each previous appearance, while incredibly exciting, the result was bittersweet. The team returned each season with a renewed purpose to achieve the goal of National Champions.
Dealing with many injuries the 2010 -2011 season got off to a rough start in National League play. After finishing first in the previous season of play the team ended up near the bottom, winning only one game in league play. As the boys recovered they set their sights on the season ahead. Determined to return to the top they worked towards the goal of winning every game. This was accomplished as they garnered first place finishes in MRL, State Cup and then Regional’s, which earned the team their fourth consecutive appearance at Nationals.
In preparation of Nationals in Phoenix, Arizona the boys trained through July day and night, hoping to be ready to handle the heat as well as the time change. Finally the day arrived, Nationals kicked off with a Players Luncheon on July 26th. All of the Regional and National League Champions from across the nation are invited to celebrate their journeys and successes.
The first game of pool play started at 8pm with the Crew taking the field with Florida Nike Rush. The boys battled with the team but emerged victorious after goals by Jason Stacy, Joe Sweet and Andrew Lewis. The final score of 4-0 marked the first step to the finals.
Second night of play the boys faced the Dallas Texans. The boys had suffered defeat by the Texans in National League play earlier in the year but were determined to turn the score. This was accomplished by goals from Greg Timmer and Sean Conerty as well as a Texan’s own goal resulting in a final tally of 4-1.
Going into the third night of pool play, the boys had pretty much locked in their place in the finals but the match with Penn Fusion was a tough one. Both teams are highly skilled and the match did not disappoint. The teams had faced each other in National League play ending in a tie game. The night ended in a tie again with both teams advancing to the finals on Sunday.
The final match day dawned with sunny skies and temperatures soaring to over 100◦. As the teams took the field, the excitement and tension could be felt by all. Both teams had worked incredibly hard to get to this point. The match was a battle from the start as all worked to claim the title. The Crew pulled ahead with a goal by Sean Conerty and thought the game was theirs. But with a diving header by Penn Fusion in the 89th minute of play it was on to overtime play. Two incredibly battled periods of overtime still resulted in a deadlock so it was on to penalty kicks. Tension built as the boys lined up on both teams to have the final decision determined. Penn Fusion hit first with a successful PK then Greg Timmer answered back, finding the back of the net with his kick. The battle ensued with even matches by Eduardo Martin, Jake Vanderlaan, and Andrew Lewis against the Penn Fusion team. The fifth kicker was denied with an incredible stop by Crew keeper Chase Rau and Jason Stacy connected with the goal to lock in the WIN! The celebration of the new National Champions began…tears of joy and excitement was met with hugs and cheers by all.
We could not be more proud of this incredible group of boys and their coaches and the journey they have taken to achieve this goal. Their dedication and determination as well as amazing soccer talent were some of the keys to their success. Job well done boys! As the Grand Rapids Crew Juniors U-17 Boys mark their page in the history books of National Championship soccer!