Two Tennessee Soccer Club teams are going to the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship in July 24-30 in Texas.
Shelley Mays/The Tennessean
The soccer fields at the Williamson County Soccer Complex are vacant. Few cars are parked in the lots surrounding each numbered field. The humid Tennessee heat is beating down on freshly cut grass that, for the most part, is untouched.
Except for fields 22 and 23.
That’s where teenagers from two Franklin-based girls soccer teams are outside training, essentially mirroring each other on parallel fields, dripping sweat in the afternoon heat.
Tennessee Soccer Club 99 Showcase, an Under-18 team, and Tennessee Soccer Club 03 Showcase, an Under-14 team, are part of the bigger Tennessee Soccer Club umbrella, a powerhouse soccer program on the youth circuit in the state.
They’re two of the best teams in Tennessee and in their respective age groups. Come Tuesday, both teams will set out to prove they’re the best in the country, playing for a shot at a national championship in Frisco, Texas.
“It’s big for the club just to get to the National Championship,” said Kyle Roelke, the coach of the U-18 team. “To have two teams there is huge. It’s just kind of becoming precedent.”
Tennessee Soccer Club’s 1999 Showcase soccer team trains for US Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas at Williamson County soccer complex in Franklin on July 17, 2017.
(Photo: Shelley Mays/The Tennessean )
The foundation for the U-18 team’s championship aspirations was laid last year. Last year’s U-18 team beat Carlsbad (Calif.) Elite, 3-1, in the championship game and helped put Tennessee youth soccer on the map.
This year’s team returns only three players from the 2016 roster, and yet, the 2017 team qualified for Nationals twice, winning the state and regional championships in the past year. Of course, they only need one of those opportunities, an opportunity they don’t take for granted.
Members of the Tennessee Soccer Club’s 1999 Showcase soccer team train for US Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas at Williamson County soccer complex in Franklin on July 17, 2017.
“There are a few girls who were a part of the championship team last year,” said U-18 defender Addison Puskar, who will be playing in Nationals for the first time. “I think seeing their experience and seeing how well we’ve done this year, it’s even more motivation. We want it.”
The practice schedule for the defending champions during the week leading up to Nationals was grueling. Each day lasted about two hours, starting at noon and ending around 2 p.m. Some players hunched over, hands on their knees, catching their breath. Others choose to keep the airflow moving by walking around their arms above their heads.
But if any of them felt tired, all they had to do was look to their right, just one field away. That’s where their younger counterparts practiced, pursuing the same goal.
Coach Nicole Aquila and members of the Tennessee Soccer Club’s 2003 girls showcase soccer team train for US Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas at Williamson County soccer complex in Franklin on July 17, 2017.
The U-14 team, coached by Nicole Aquila, has dominated its age group. Just like the U-18 team, the U-14 team won both the state and regional championships this year. Seeing the accomplishments of the older team is extra motivation for the U-14 team.
“We definitely look up to them,” said Whitaker Buchanan, the U-14 team’s top scorer. “We’ve been practicing with them and they’ve been supporting us so much. It made us work that much harder. I know a bunch of girls on our team want to be just like them when we’re their age.”
This collective support is indicative of the city’s approach to soccer this summer. Nissan Stadium has become a destination stadium for major soccer events.
Nashville SC will move to the professional ranks and has gained traction as a potential MLS expansion franchise. The International Champions Cup will bring two English Premiere League teams to town later in July.
If you ask players and coaches from the Tennessee Soccer Club, there’s a sense of pride they feel knowing they have a chance to represent the state and the city of Nashville.
Come Tuesday, when the National Championships begin, these two teams hope to add to the rise of soccer.
“There’s more youth playing soccer now than 10 years ago,” Aquila said. “This is now not just a city of football and hockey. I feel like we’re a sports town, and the next thing we’re looking to be is a soccer town.”
Reach Colton Pouncy by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @CTPSports