The U18 FC Bucks Vipers from PAGS are National Champions, following their 1-0 victory over Region II Champion Ohio Elite Academy at July’s 2009 US Youth Soccer National Championship finals in Lancaster, Mass.
The long-awaited goal of winning a National Championship was finally achieved by the players and coaches of the FC Bucks Vipers. Madlyn Evans scored the game’s lone goal in the 52nd minute, a beautiful, 19-yard arching bomb from just outside the left side box, deflected by the Ohio Elite keeper high into the far corner. It was Maddie’s fourth goal of the Championship, earning her the tournament’s “Golden Boot” award.
Gabrielle Pakhtigian played outstanding in goal — including two game-saving, diving saves — and was awarded the “Golden Gloves” award.
Over 10,000 youth soccer teams around the country enter their State Championship tournaments in the hopes of winning a National Championship. Out of those 10,000 teams, only 12 (boys and girls U14 through U19) are crowned National Champions.
The Vipers entered the tournament with a quiet confidence, based on their stellar performance during the 2008 National Tournament, in which they went 2-1 but failed to advance to the Championship match as a result of the goal-differential tiebreaker.
No one made a point of it, but the Vipers entered the 2009 National Championship Tournament with a 2008-09 record of 30-0-0. Their last defeat was at the hands of the 2008 National Champion Dallas Texans in July 2008.
This year, like none in the past, the girls showed an incredible resiliency not before seen. No matter what happened on the field, they never counted themselves out of a match, and always found a way to win tough, competitive games. Throughout the year, time after time — against the best competition available in soccer — incredible offense, ball possession, stingy defense and incredible goalkeeping kept the Vipers in games and played a huge role in propelling them to victory. Teamwork in all aspects of the game, and a willingness to put the team above the individual was the hallmark of the Vipers.
With the National Championship, the Vipers completed an unbelievable, undefeated, 33-0-1 season.
The first example of their resolve showed during their trip to the Raleigh, N.C., Final 4 tournament in December of 2008. Their first match was against long-time Region I rival McLean Freedom. Over the years, the series record was tilted in favor of the Freedom, including a 1-0 loss in the 2007 Region I final, one of three years in which the Freedom had eliminated the Vipers at the Regional Tournament.
This year would be different.
The Vipers played a strong game, controlling possession during much of the game, coming away with a 2-0 win. There were no letdowns during the game, and the confidence building continued to build throughout the season.
After winning their next game, the 2-0 Vipers faced the 2-0 Eclipse Select team from Illinois for the Championship — the same team they had faced at Nationals in 2008. Eclipse scored first and applied pressure often. However, the Vipers countered with two amazing second half goals and three equally impressive saves to claim the victory and the tournament Championship.
In winning the tournament, and coming from behind against one of the best teams in the country, the Vipers began to realize that something special was brewing. They continued to work hard all winter in the gym.
On the pitch, more amazing results in the Jefferson Cup only confirmed what was in the air earlier in the season. The girls moved on to the Region I Premier League, winning the regular season and overall Championship for the second-consecutive year with a 9-0 record and a total goal tally of 37-7.
The Vipers then won their seventh State Cup Championship in eight attempts, before adding age-group titles at the State and Regional level in the U23 U.S. Adult Soccer Association Series.
At Nationals, the opening match was against the Region IV Champion, Northern California’s Pleasanton Rage. This was also the second trip to Nationals for the Rage, who in 2007 suffered an experience similar to the Vipers in 2008 — that is, going 2-1 at Nationals but being eliminated from the Championship game on a goal-differential tiebreaker.
The Rage was stacked with talent and had high expectations. A highly competitive match ended in a 3-1 Vipers victory. Next up was Region III Champion Edmund ESC ‘91, who had defeated 2008 National Champion Dallas Texans in the Region III final by a 1-0 margin. ESC came out immediately in a “pack the box and counter” mentality. The Vipers struggled to find their rhythm, but again, despite not finding their “A” game, came away with a hard-fought, 2-0 victory.
This assured both the Vipers and Ohio Elite (who had also gone 2-0) of a place in the Championship game, despite both teams having one round-robin game remaining — against each other. As a result, the last preliminary game was oddly paced, with both teams focused more on avoiding injury and resting players than pushing hard for the win. The girls’ competitiveness couldn’t be entirely squashed, though, as they came back from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to end the game in a 2-2 draw — ultimately, the only non-victory of the Vipers’ entire season.
This set up the Sunday Championship game against Ohio Elite. Teammates told each other to treat the game like it was any other. As Saturday progressed into Sunday, however, the girls began saying more and more, “This isn’t like any other game, this is the National Championship … and we’re going to win it.”
The game featured high pressure by both teams and excellent defense. Although both teams pride themselves on ball possession and dictating the tempo of the game, tenacious defense and pressure from all sides resulted in a hard-fought, tackle-filled game.
The Vipers seemed to enjoy the better of the play, generating a 13-4 corner kick advantage and endless opportunities for the Ohio Elite goalkeeper to exhibit her 60-70-yard punts and goal kicks. Most of the kicks somehow found Kaitlyn Kerr’s head and wound up going out of danger, but when they fell to the ground, they were in the Vipers box after one bounce. Time after time, every member of the Vipers defense skillfully shut down Ohio’s skillful players, which include two North Carolina-bound strikers. Several brilliant slide tackles and headed balls out of danger defused dangerous scoring opportunities.
The margin for error was small, but the defense came through, big-time. Gabby Pakhtigian’s brilliant mastery of her box and leadership on the field showed throughout the contest. Although the Vipers carried the possession and the play in the first half, Ohio generated the two best goal-scoring opportunities, both of which were denied by Pakhtigian’s incredible saves. The intensely fought first half ended, 0-0.
Early in the second half, Yvonne Moyer played the ball into Heidi Sabatura, who played a through ball into Madlyn Evans in the box. Evans curled the ball back out, turned and uncorked a 19-yard arching ball which deflected from the outstretched fingers of the Ohio Elite keeper, going high into the corner of the net, giving the Vipers a 1-0 lead.
The brilliant goal resulted in an intensified game. Time and again, you could hear the coaches saying, “That’s a big-time play,” as some of the best women’s soccer players gave everything they had for the remaining 40 minutes of play.
For the Vipers, two other great scoring opportunities occurred. Colleen Williams combined with Evans to put Heidi Sabatura into the box on the right side, but her shot was eaten up by the Ohio Elite keeper. Late in the second half, Jenn Hoy played a ball to Evans, who flicked the ball back to Hoy in the box, one-on-one with the keeper, looking for a 2-0 lead. Hoy fired a shot that looked destined for the top of the net, but it slammed into the crossbar instead.
A counter play by the Ohio Elite star player resulted in a hard shot on goal that was confidently eaten up by Pakhtigian. Two minutes of injury time seemed like an eternity as the parents cheered on the Vipers. When the whistle blew, the Vipers knew they had won a long-sought-after National Championship.
All the sacrifices, dedication and support of Vipers family members came through. The players were given their Championship hats and shirts and they jubilantly dumped the Gatorade on Coach Ed Leigh. Coach Leigh hugged his girls and they celebrated a brilliant Championship.
The FC Bucks Vipers were the first Pennsylvania team since 2003 to win a National Championship and the first-ever Pennsylvania girls’ team to win a US Youth Soccer national title.