The annual trip down to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho for the Bill Eisenwinter HOTSHOT Tournament is always an eventful one for our Flathead Valley United teams. In recent years, the trip has become one filled with success for our senior boys and girls teams, this year proved to be no different. With two of the more experienced FVU teams in recent memory in the 2004-2006 Premier Boys and Girls, the expectation for both teams was to be competitive. For Executive Director Damion Blackburn, the performances of both senior teams over the weekend served as further proof that the club is helping to develop players to their full potential
“The whole weekend was proof of concept in a lot of ways, looking at the valley as a whole and the FVU model,” said Blackburn. “It’s always great to highlight the achievements of our players and our teams especially as they look to move to the next level and again we have a lot of players that have announced that they intend to play at the next level.”
It came as no surprise to the coaching staff that by Sunday afternoon, both teams found themselves in their respective championship games.
2004-2006 Flathead Valley United Premier Girls
Arriving in Coeur d’Alene with the thought process that they could beat anyone, the FVU Premier Girls were in for a rude awakening as they fell 4-0 to the hosting Coeur d’Alene Thorns early Saturday morning. With only a few hours in between their first two matches, the girls had to regroup and rally for another tough test in the afternoon.
Rather than folding due to a tough first game, the girls came out and put on their most complete performance of the entire season in a comprehensive 4-2 victory over the U-18 Indie Chicas. With their highest offensive output of the season, it came as no surprise that Coach Blackburn lauded the performances of central midfielder Brooke Roberts and forward Reagan Brisendine.
“Up front our attacking prowess with Reagan Brisendine and Brooke Roberts in particular, were both at a completely different level than the other teams that we played against that simply couldn’t handle what they brought in different ways,” said Blackburn. “Reagan playing as a forward in a 3-5-2 is in a more advantageous position for her to be one on one with centerbacks. Brooke was playing as a 10 and was able to be someone that got in between lines a lot and was pulling the strings for us.”
With their strong second game in the group stage, the girls had earned themselves a spot in the semi-final. After finding their groove in the attacking third on Saturday, the team continued to create chances and put them away, winning the semi-final in resounding 3-1 fashion over Helena Youth Soccer Association. After three hard fought matches in two days, the girls had earned themselves a spot in the championship and a rematch against the Thorns.
“It was a very competitive Timbers/Thorns team that has actually already qualified for Nationals through their league play in the state of Idaho and the Region. So it was interesting to have the opportunity to play them again because I think the first match was just at a level that our girls hadn’t seen yet. I think our players performed extremely well in the second match.”
Despite falling 2-0 in the final, Blackburn singled out the performance of goalkeeper Ella Wilson, who saved two penalties in the final to keep the team in the game. After recovering from an injury that has kept her out for just under the last 18 months, Wilson has returned to form and will be playing collegiate goalkeeper for Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington next Fall.
Equally impressive was the performance of senior Maya Lacey who played as one of three center backs in the team’s 3-5-2. Lacey was tasked with defending the opposition’s winger, a highly touted recruit with dynamic take-on ability and was more than up for the task, according to Blackburn.
“Maya Lacey might’ve had the best individual performance of any player in the entire event overall, from what I saw,” said Blackburn. “Maya was lockdown fantastic in the defensive phase, but she was also pivotal in the attacking phase, helping us to still play our brand of soccer while defending at times for extended periods.”
Next up, the girls will play at the club’s Three Blind Refs Tournament the first weekend of June.
2004-2006 Flathead Valley United Premier Boys
On the boys side, the 2004-2006 Premier Boys team came into the tournament with equally high aspirations. With some of the best overall players to come out of the Flathead in some time, the team was looking to come home Idaho with a trophy. First up they had to face off against a strong Coeur D’Alene Timbers 2005 team.
Up against a level of physicality they had yet to experience all season, the group had to acclimate to a quicker speed of play and tougher brand of athlete. Fortunately, it did not take long for the team to recognize that they belonged at this level, as less than twenty minutes into the group stage match Liam Ells slotted home a penalty kick to give FVU a 1-0 lead. The momentum didn’t last long, as the Timbers were able to net a penalty of their own just a few short minutes later to tie the game.
As the game progressed, the boys showed a level of resolve and composure that they had yet to unlock previously. A fantastic finish from outside of the box by Sullivan Coggins gave the boys the lead at the tail end of the first half, and they would not let it slip away. Goals from Ryder Elliott and Joey Paolini finished off the game in convincing 4-1 fashion.
“I think our style of play and the way we want our teams to play, we want to have multiple stages of possession,” said Blackburn. “We look to play in between lines and behind lines not just with direct football but with a kind of possession oriented style, and the guys were able to do that.”
After stumbling in their next group stage match, the boys were forced to play in a hard fought semi-final. Goals from Joey Paolini, Finley Sundberg and Bridger Dalla Betta helped the team to a 3-2 victory and a spot in the championship.
Forced to go up against another highly competitive Timbers team, the boys fell just short, ultimately losing 3-2 in the final. Fantastic goals from Paolini and Sol Dalla Betta kept them in the game, but they were unable to score an equalizer. Blackburn viewed the game as a true battle of soccer philosophies.
“It was very interesting to see a clash of two styles, in particular in the final,” said Blackburn. “I think if we objectively track that game, our midfield was far more involved in the attacking phase than our opponent. But the cool thing about playing at the older ages, is that there is no right way to play the game and they did a good job of dealing with a different style in the final, and some individual performances were fantastic.”
As the 2004-2006 FVU Premier Boys move forward with their season, everything will now be in preparation for the USYS Far West Regional Championships. The oldest FVU boys age group has now qualified for the regional event in three consecutive years and they will be looking to build off of the progress they made last year in winning the club’s first ever game at the championships.