Every time Mike Dean attended a high school soccer match this spring for one of his Omaha FC 94/95 Elite 1 players, the talk afterward turned to regionals.
The under-18 boys team lost to Wisconsin in a shootout during the semifinals last June, and the players haven't been able to forget it. They couldn't wait for this season's tournament.
“The boys have been marking this on their calendar for 12 months,” Dean said. “They really have a bitter taste in their mouth from last year.”
They'll get a chance for redemption at the US Youth Soccer Region II championships in Des Moines. The squad opens pool play against the Missouri state champion at 4 p.m. Saturday at Cownie Soccer Park.
This could be the last hurrah as 13 of the 18 players on the squad head off to play college soccer this fall.
The four-time Nebraska state cup champions have won 75 of 103 matches the past four years, with 17 losses and 11 draws. They've competed in numerous national tournaments and defeated several state champions.
“They are hard-working, dedicated and, of course, talented,” Dean said. “They are ambitious kids who want to travel and obviously kids who want to go play in college.”
Dean has been putting together the pieces of this squad for the past four years. He's brought in the best players in the state, completing the roster with the addition of Mark Moulton of Omaha Creighton Prep, Ali Sodal of Omaha Westside and Miguel Espinoza of Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln two years ago. Moulton was the captain of The World-Herald's 2012 All-Nebraska team.
Peter Schropp, who has been playing for the under-17 national team while living at the U.S. Soccer Academy in Florida, also will play with the 94/95 team this summer.
Once the roster was complete, the team started traveling. It won a large tournament in Plano, Texas, and was runner-up at another elite event in Phoenix.
But the one the players can't forget is that regional loss. They'd remind themselves about it when motivation lagged at practices.
To get back to the semifinals Tuesday, they'll have to also beat Indiana and Ohio South in pool play. A loss or tie could keep them from advancing.
“You have to win your group. You can't really slip up,” Dean said.
Dean, who in January was named the national boys competitive coach of the year, hopes his team's chemistry and short-pass attacking style will carry it far.
“We're putting all of our eggs in this basket,” Dean said. “We felt like we didn't deserve to lose last year.”
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