You know that cliché used at the beginning and end of every championship sports event? Every team and player is a winner just for being here, regardless of what happens on the field. Well, that saying could not be more apropos for the Lewiston-based Valley Thunder’s aptly-named Alliance.
Though they only earned one win in Waukegan, Ill. last weekend at the US Club Soccer National Cup XI, the biggest victory for the U16G Premier side came in reaching the tournament itself. It was a huge accomplishment for a team that a year ago it was not expected to even exist.
The fact that the squad was almost entirely comprised of U15 players is completely overshadowed upon closer examination when you find out half the team resides in Idaho and the other half in Washington. And it’s not just a nearby town across the border in the Evergreen State, but all the way on the other side of the Cascades in Seattle - a distance of around 300 miles.
The team is, in fact, the combination of two half-squads coached by Michelle Parson, the Director of Coaching for Valley Thunder, and Kevin Lamb, a former coach for Tynecastle (Seattle) and assistant coach at Shoreline Community College.
“I had a U18 team that was playing in a league a year and a half ago and the coach I am currently coaching with was a college coach recruiting my players, and when he began asking about several of them he quickly realized I had several U14 players playing,” Parson said of her initial interaction with Lamb. “After that season my U18 girls graduated, which left these U14 players without a full team. He was going through a similar situation. One conversation led to another; to a tournament and now a team that just finished its first year of play together - and we did it at the national [championship] tournament.
That is quite an achievement considering the fact that clubs across the nation in the same city have difficulties working together for what is best for the players.
“This is a very dynamic situation that no one really would believe works. We do face things that most teams don't, and we constantly have to work to make sure we are doing what is right for the kids, but they love each other and they do not want to change a thing; so we work extra hard to make it work for them.”
Fortunately, the USCS Regionals were a local event for the Seattle-based contingent, making the logistics back in June a much simpler task to tackle in comparison to the trip to Chicago last week. Especially considering the regional runners-up were invited on short notice as a replacement for the regional champion Washington Premier, the lone side they could not get the better of at the regional tournament with a 4-0 loss in group play and 6-1 defeat in the final while outscoring their other group and semifinal opponents 8-1 on aggregate to reach the final as the wildcard.
Having players on the squad who had played well above their age before proved beneficial in their tournament performances U16 level with only two U16 members on the team. Though success at the final whistle eluded them most of the event, the team learned throughout and improved as the competition continued.
“We are a true U15 team, with the two U16 players coming in off the bench,” said Parson.
The Alliance had a tough draw facing a local side in the opening game, falling to the Windy City Pride, 4-0.
“It was a really rough start; lots of nerves and the game they play is a bit faster. We did adjust early and took them into the second half 1-0. Then we made some costly adjustments after we got down 2-0 in the second that cost us a couple of goals. We made the adjustments to try to create some offense, but it backfired.
The team then began to show its mettle. They controlled the entire second game, but missed several shots, allowing a costly mistake in the backfield that gave Gulf Coast United the opportunity to capitalize for the lone goal of the match.
“Sunday's game was great. We won 2-0, and it was a well-structured game,” Parson said of the final match against Uppr9t Soccer. “We played consistent and our style of play, which is more of a smaller pass-and -move kind of game. We do not play a lot of long ball.”
“We had a great experience for our first adventure at this level of tournament,” concluded Parson. “Looking forward to next year.”
Valley Thunder Alliance Roster
Madison Arends^ (Seattle, WA),Morgan Ashe^ (Lewiston, ID), Kristi Bartz (Seattle), McKenna Berg (Seattle), Michelle Camerer (Seattle), Natalie Deland (Seattle), Jazman Griggs (Seattle), Jessica Kloepfer (Lewiston), DeVann Maurer* (Lewiston), Brooke Morrow (Clarkston, WA), Lura Morton (Moscow, ID), Cali Moscrip (Lewiston), Tori Newman (Seattle), Madison Taylor (Lewiston), Sam Taylor (Seattle), Mychael Tenwick (Clarkston), Emilee Wiggin (Lewiston). Coaches: Michelle Parson & Kevin Lamb. ^ Denotes U16 player, * Injured/DNP.