The Freedom Soccer Club's 2006 Predators boys travel team has done well in two years under coach Brad Sellar.
The kids have a bunch of trophies to commemorate tournament championships, plus the under-13 title of the Central Maryland Soccer League last fall. But there was one fly in all that ointment. In last year's St. Patrick Day's Emerald Cup Tournament, the local kids not only didn't win. They were bad.
As Sellar put it: “We lost all of our games by a lot."
But this past St. Paddy's Day, they returned to Frederica, Delaware, the scene of last year's disappointment. And, they erased that one blot on their record. The Predators swept three games in the chilly outdoors to win this year's under-13 Emerald Cup championship.
Sellar felt that last year's problems were due to a lack of familiarity, not lack of talent-and certainly not a lack of effort. After all, the Predators won their CMSA title last spring and the Columbia Classic tournament in the fall.
They also played in the EDP league last fall and won all but two games.
But the Emerald Cup played by different rules.
"My boys were more used to playing 11 on a side, but the tournament games used nine on a side,” Sellar said. “We just weren't used to it.”
However, the boys were ready to go when they journeyed to Delaware last month. They'd been playing indoors and finished third in a Carroll Indoor Sports under 13 league. Looking ahead to the Emerald Cup, Sellar said, "I was worried after last year, but I also knew the boys would be competitive."
They were more than just competitive in their first two games.
The Predators hammered the Pennsylavnia-based Montgomery United 10-0 in their opener. They scored in a lot of different ways.
"We moved the ball well, passed well and got a lot of crossing passes that set up scores,” Sellar said. “It was nice to see some headed in goals.”
In the second half, Freedom's Lucas Britos scored twice as his corner kicks sailed into the net, making the score 3-1. The defense stifled the Delaware team, and that's how the game ended.
After his team had rolled up a 5-0 halftime lead, its coach decided to have his players work on some special skills under game conditions. He issued some "challenges" to his players as he put it.
"I said they had to make at least five passes before shooting,” Sellar said. “And after the fifth pass, they had to shoot as soon as they touched the ball.”
These "challenges," as he put it, were intended to hold down the score and also give his boys some good game practice in ball-handling. He also moved the defenders up to the front line and gave them a chance to score. Many did score, including goalie Logan Davis.
Despite all of this, they still managed five more goals in the second half to win 10-0. The second game, against Delaware-based Coastal Atlantic Blue, was even more lopsided despite more of their coach's "challenges."
They jumped out to a big lead at halftime, putting Blue in a deep hole. Sellar then told his boys they had to beat an opponent each time they touched the ball. Judging by the final score of 12-0, that challenge didn't slow them down too much.
That second win gave the Predators first place in their bracket. They then played the other bracket winner, Delaware's Mt. Laurel United, for the championship. United had also shut out its two opponents but by lower scores.
Sellar was apprehensive at first. He noted that GotSoccer magazine had rated his final game opponent about 200 places above his team. However, his Predators hadn't read that article, and they would never trail in the contest.
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Blake Davis scored about 15 minutes into the game to put Freedom ahead 1-0. Then just before halftime, Mt. Laurel United tied it 1-1.
This being the first really pressurized game his kids had played in the tournament, their coach felt it would be good to try and settle them down at halftime.
"We had a talented defense and strong midfielders, and that allowed us to keep control of the game," Sellar said.
Davis had also played well, allowing only one goal in three games.
"The boys were really happy winning this, and that is what means a lot to me,” Sellar saiad. “But what meant the most to me is that they all came to practice and always worked hard.”
Sellar also credited assistant coaches Matt Wanex and Mike Lane for their help in molding the team. He said his team's efforts allowed it to overcome any talent differential it encountered when facing a strong opponent.
"We work harder than anybody else,” Sellar said. “When we run into a team that is more talented than us, we work even harder. That is what is most important.”