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The new U.S. Soccer Federation rule requiring that affiliated youth teams be organized based on birth year and not school grade has forced a re-organization of area soccer teams and leagues.

But in the case of a certain under-12 North Carroll Soccer Club team, the change has been very beneficial. The North Carroll Force United 2005 squad, coached by North Carroll Rec Council President John Woodley, could return only four players from last year's squad because of the rule.

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The rest of the squad of 15 came from three existing North Carroll travel teams and included four members who had never played travel soccer before. That rule change had come as an explosion that scattered pieces of the North Carroll travel soccer organization in all directions.

But in the case of the Woodley's Force team, the pieces fell to earth and formed a miraculous pattern.

Woodley named his team the North Carroll Force United because it was meant to signify that the team originated from different places but that it would play as a unit.

Forming that unit fell to Woodley and his four assistant coaches, Edgar Martinez, Gary Siegler, Rich Haines, and Josh Peltzer. They developed an intense regimen of 2-4 miles of running plus intense skills development that included 1,000 touches per practice for the players during each summer practice session.

Woodley also told them that their training shouldn't conclude with the formal practices.

"If you love the game and want to be great, you need to have instruction outside of practice and do it on your own," he said.

In other words: do your homework.

Despite the coaches' efforts, Woodley said he wasn't sure how the season would go when his team first stepped on the field.

He entered it in five tournaments and also placed it in the Central Maryland Soccer Association's Saturday League. Because the team was so recently formed, he placed it in the league's Challenge Flight, a mix of both experienced and less-experienced teams.

The kids quickly showed that their coaches' efforts hadn't been in vain.

"We expected them to be competitive. But once they got on the field, we began to see the players buy into the instruction, and we could see that they were turning into something pretty special," Woodley said.

They started turning special in August when Force United journeyed to Pennsylvania to play in the Hershey Cup tournament. it finished second in this initial outing, losing the finale to the top-seeded team that had played together four years.

Later in August, United finished first in Gettysburg's Battlefield Blast tournament. In September, it was first in Harrisburg's Casa Mid-State Classic.

Meanwhile, it was cruising along in CMSA. It shut out its first four opponents on the schedule before losing a 1-0 squeaker to a team from Parkville. The following week, it tied 1-1 before recovering to win 2-1 and then ending its season with a 3-0 shutout win.

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Force United went 6-1-1 overall to finish first in the CMSA, allowing only three goals in its eight league games. North Carroll Force United shut out five of those eight opponents.

It also continued to excel in its tournament schedule. It finished third in October's Dillsburg (Pa.) tournament before finishing up in Lancaster with a first place finish in the Hempfield Classic's under 12 division. Woodley considers that win to be the most rewarding of the season for his team.

"We wanted the kids to win at a better competitive level so we put them up against much stronger competition to see how they'd do.They really stepped up," he said.

They lost their second game 3-2 to Lower Merion Soccer Club (Pa.), however, "their heads didn't go down," Woodley said.

In the semifinal game, they recovered from a 1-0 deficit to top HFC United 3-2. That Harford County squad was ranked 17th among birth year 2005 teams in Maryland at the time.

North Carroll beat Lionville City (Pa.) 1-0 in the Hempfield's championship contest.

Not surprisingly, its coach considered defense to be the team's big strong point this year. It recorded ten shutouts and allowed an average of less than a goal per game over its 35 contests. North Carroll's overall record was 25-8-3.

But its success went deeper than simply good defense. The Force played what he termed "whole team soccer" with all of its players having a basically equal role in handling the ball.

On offense, it meant that his team didn't rely on just a few players to carry the load. This year, all 15 of his players had either a goal or an assist. Thirteen scored at least one goal, but only 11 players had more than 10 points and only four scored over 20.

The team's success has been noted well beyond the boundaries of the northeastern quadrant of Carroll County. GotSoccer had the Force United ranked as high as 17th among 12-under boys soccer teams at one point in the season; it's now ranked 23rd.

The other 12-under North Carroll Force travel team, coached by Jeff Fritz, is also in the top 20, Woodley noted.

He added that only SAC/Howard County, the second-largest youth football club in Maryland, has as many as two under-12 teams ranked in the top 20.

"We have 200 kids in our [travel] program. They have 300 teams," Woodley said with a sense of pride in his voice.

His kids will practice this winter but not play in any leagues.

"Thirty-five games is a lot of soccer," he explained with a laugh.

They've earned a rest.

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