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The North Carroll Force faced a winner-take-all soccer match yesterday for the championship of the Central Maryland Soccer Association's Saturday under-12 boys A/B North A Flight.

The unbeaten 7-0 Force played the 6-0-1 Lutherville-Timonium Soccer Club. One might normally expect the local kids to be a bit nervous at the prospect. After all, they are only 11, and this is a pressure game played at their opponent's home field.

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However, these are special kids. Playing pressure games is old hat to these guys. They have finished first or second some 22 times in soccer leagues and tournaments since they began play in May, 2012.

Force head coach Jeff Fritz wasn't thinking that much about records when he called for tryouts four years ago. Thirteen boys showed up, mostly from Hampstead and Manchester. He kept all 13.

Right away, he decided that kids getting better at soccer was going to be the main priority of his team, not winning games.

It's pretty evident by now that his players have gotten better because they've won 200 of them. About half of the boys who started with the Force are still there.

North Carroll Force entered the CMSA in 2012 as an under-8 team. It won exactly one game that first year. But Fritz wasn't discouraged. He says in fact that he saw a lot of potential in those players.

The resident of Hampstead proved himself a good judge of soccer talent.

His players moved indoors that very winter where they won every game in an under-8 league. The team has won ever since.

What's amazing is that North Carroll's travel soccer teams have a very small draw area which is hemmed in by Central Carroll and Westminster to the south and west. But in a sense, that has been a boon.

"They all come from a small area, but they know each other, and they stick together," Fritz said.

He feels this familiarity helps them play the kind of soccer he prefers: a style that emphasizes all of the players working together to win.

"We play great team soccer," he said. "It's not about individuals, but how they play as a team. They trust each other. They aren't always the most skilled, but they beat better teams with teamwork and desire."

They also win by maintaining constant pressure on their opponents.

"Our defense is good, and we don't give up many goals. We press high and they don't get many shots in our zone. But we average about 25-30 shots a game," Fritz added.

The 2015 season was a good one for the Force. It finished first once, third once and second twice in its four leagues. In tournaments it had two second place finishes and two third placers. In another, the Force finished fifth of 32 teams.

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But changes in soccer age rules required players on teams to be the same age. The rule change cost the Force four players. This spring, it had taken a big hit roster-wise with five boys gone.

"It was tough losing the kids we lost, but we made the best of it. We also tried to teach [the players] a life lesson that change will happen," Fritz said.

So Fritz and assistant coaches Larry Smith and Jason Stremmel brought in four new members. Fritz says that two of the newcomers turned into the team's best players this year.

They got an early test at August's Overlea Cup Under 12 Tournament. The Force won its first three games and then played the Baltimore Bays, also 3-0, for the tournament championship.

"We were behind, 2-0 in the first one-and-a-half minutes and 4-1 at halftime. But then we scored four goals in the second half to tie it, 5-5," Fritz said. "That showed we had a lot of heart and determination, and it showed we could come back. If there had been another minute in the game, we would have scored another goal and won."

That was a game in which the team lived up to its motto which says, "all heart, all hustle, no quit, play like champions."

While the Force and Bays were both 3-0-1 at tourney's end, the Carroll squad was awarded the championship based on goal differential.

And this weekend, it faced yet another test against an undefeated team, this at their home field in Timonium. A league championship hung in the balance. But that prospect didn't bother the North Carroll coach much.

Fritz said, "if we play the way we are capable of playing, I'm confident that we'll have a good result."

Judging by what the North Carroll Force has accomplished so far in "crucial" games, that confidence is justified.

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