The Baltimore Spirit youth team will make a final appearance after last year's triumphant run to the United States Youth Soccer boys under-19 championship.
The Columbia Darby will continue its pursuit for a national crown.
In all, 14 Baltimore-area teams -- seven boys and seven girls -- in age groups from U-12 to U-20, will travel to Niagara Falls, N.Y., for the USYS Region I championships that begin tomorrow.
Region I includes 15 regions in 13 states. Winners in the U-16, U-17, U-18 and U-19 divisions qualify for the national tournament July 27-30 in West Palm Beach, Fla.
"Everyone has won something at the state level (to qualify for regionals),so it gives the kids an opportunity to see how they stack up against the best of the region," said Spirit coach Dave Nesbitt. "Except for a few select tournaments, they don't have that chance.
"Traditionally, Maryland is a strong as anybody . . . right there with Jersey, east New York and eastern Pennsylvania."
The regionals mark the end of the road for the Spirit, at least before moving on to the adult ranks.
The Darby, frustrated by its inability to repeat its Region I title last year and thus earn a trip to the nationals, still is focused on the U.S. crown as its only satisfactory conclusion.
"That's what our goal has been from the beginning," said Darby sweeper Ryan Smith, whose side has claimed three Maryland Cups and one regional championship in its three years.