The Crusaders United U17 girls’ soccer team has allowed just seven goals in 26 games since November.
With that type of defense, coach Tim Dunn believes his club has a good shot at bringing home a championship from the US Youth Soccer National Presidents Cup, which kicks off Thursday in Sacramento.
“I think we’re as good as any other team going out there,” said Dunn, who founded the program in 1994 and is also the assistant girls’ coach at Duxbury High. “When you don’t give up many goals, you don’t lose many games.”
The trip to California is special for the Crusaders program: The U16 boys’ squad is also shooting for a crown. Both squads captured regional titles in New Hampshire back in May.
The round-robin format starts Thursday morning; the two clubs in each division with the best record advance to the championship Sunday.
“The boys’ squad is a great, great team as well,” said Dunn. “It’s going to be a great trip and the memories will be priceless. Hopefully we can both represent the state well and come home as champions.”
Although goalie Michaela Stuart, the varsity keeper at Weymouth High, receives most of the credit as the anchor, the Crusaders have received great help out front from defenders Gabrielle Toro McHue of Weymouth, Olivia Parsons (Plymouth), Alyssa Eaton (Hanson), and Jaclyn Tomasello (Halifax).
“There are games when Michaela is not that busy, but the team is outstanding defensively,” said Dunn. “We play a high-pressure style, so we don’t give teams a lot of time to think about what they are doing and we capitalize on mistakes. That’s how we play. When the opposition does get into our final third, our four defenders shut them down pretty quickly.”
The Crusaders typically rely on an offense-by-committee approach, possessing great depth on attack. Laura Nee (Duxbury), Paige Radomski (Kingston), and Madison Finlay and Hannah Lear (both of Plymouth) are the most consistent scorers. Radomski, the only graduating senior on the club, will play at Assumption College in the fall.
“We’ve had a very exciting year in that this is our first Presidents Cup, and it’s the most fun I‘ve had coaching in 18 years,” said Dunn, whose club gave up just two goals in the five-game regional tourney.
“We are such a strong team defensively, and the team is great in terms of team chemistry. This may not be the best team I’ve coached in club soccer, but it’s probably my favorite team. It’s a special group of young ladies and they truly play the game for each other and battle for each other. It’s been a fun experience.”
The U16 boys’ squad hopes to duplicate the magic that earned the 2009 Crusaders entry the national title in Raleigh, N.C., when it defeated a team from southern Florida on penalty kicks after two overtimes.
“We’re a very complete team and we have all the pieces in place,” said coach John McCully, the head coach at Nauset Regional High. “We’re a very good team and we are very creative on the attack and we can score in a number of different ways. We feel very confident.”
The U16 Crusaders outscored foes, 21-5, in the regional tournament, led by cocaptains Sean Hurlburt of Kingston, who plays at Silver Lake Regional High School, and Steven Kilday (Marshfield High).
“They are our two captains and center backs and they just do a fabulous job and both are great ball winners and very good in the air,” said McCully. “Those guys will certainly be playing college ball at some point.”
Paul Beatty (Silver Lake) of Halifax is an offensive-minded left midfielder.
“Paul has tremendous speed and quickness that most teams have a very difficult time containing,” said McCully. “We call him our bread and butter, because we try to get him the ball as much as possible because most teams have a difficult time matching up with him.”
The Crusaders also count on Kieran Kelleher (Kingston), who plays at Archbishop Williams in Braintree.
Will McDonald, a 6-foot-3 keeper from Norwell High, has stepped in as the starter in goal, using his height to his advantage, eliminating high balls from contention.
“He’s got pretty decent feet, too, and he makes a lot of saves with his feet, which is surprising because he is so long,” said McCully. “Many players have been with the team three or four years, but this is his first year and he’s done very well.”
McCully said that his U16 squad’s balance and team unity gives it a strong chance to match the 2009 championship team. The Crusaders were also 7-0 in Division 1 of the Maple League.
“That’s a pretty big accomplishment,” said McCully. “We’ve had a great deal of success at every tournament we’ve competed in. Part of that results from team chemistry.
“This team has been built over two or three years and we haven’t changed too much. We have tremendous chemistry and we’re very balanced; we’re good in goal, good on defense, and good on offense. It’s a very coachable group of guys and they trust each other to make plays and make things happen on the field.”