Local youth soccer players shine all the way to nationals

July 3, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

Midfielder Giovanni Sanchez, of Issaquah, evades Concorde Fire’s defense during a March 23 game in Las Vegas. Eastside FC went on to finish the game with a 2-0 win against the 2011 National Champs. Photo courtesy of Eastside FC

While the high school soccer season has long been over, local members of the Eastside FC 94 Red team still have a full dance card.

After defeating 63 teams to take the Washington State Cup championship for the sixth time in nearly as many years and winning the US Youth Soccer National League Red Division, the players are busy gearing up for the 2012 US Youth Soccer National Championships July 24-29.

“We were all celebrating and jumping up and down,” said Kaleb Strawn, a senior at Skyline High School and a defender for Eastside FC. “It felt good that all our hard work throughout the year paid off and we made it to our main goal of the season.”

This will be the second time in two years that the boys from King County face the nation’s top five teams for the title. After winning the Farwest Regional Championships last year, Eastside FC got caught up in a four-way tie at nationals. But when goal differentiations (a statistical tiebreaker) were used to break the tie, the boys did not make the cut. They are ready for redemption.

“Going to nationals for the first time last year was a great experience. The key is to learn from those experiences and apply those to future competitions,” said coach Dan Strom, an Issaquah resident who teaches at Inglewood Junior High School.

Among those lessons, he said, is the importance of scoring the first goal and of defense.

“We learned that every game you play has to be played with the same focus and concentration,” he said. “You really can’t afford not to be focused the entire game.”

But all that hard work and success at tournaments means that youth soccer is a year-round sport for these athletes.

“These guys on this team, because they have the state championship and go to regionals each year, have never gotten enough rest,” said assistant coach Nathan Heck, of Sammamish.

Many of the players have been with the team since it started out in the U11 age division. Now in the U17 division, all but one of the years has stretched far into the post season. That means 30-40 days of travel each year, Heck said. Although it continues to practice, the team does take a break from competitions for about six weeks each year to make room for the boys to play for their individual schools.

“It’s not too hard — there are 24 hours in a day,” Evan King, a senior at Issaquah High School, said. “There is plenty of time to get it all done. Sleep and girls find their way in.”

Goalkeeper for the team, King joined Eastside FC four years ago and is glad he did.

“It’s an incredible team,” he said. “We spend more time with each other than we do anyone else and we never get tired of each other.”

Madison Heck, a senior at Eastlake High School and midfielder who is Nathan’s son, said he feels overwhelmed at times, especially, he said when he’s up at 2 a.m. still doing homework.

“On games away, we have about 15 of us in the lobby, working on homework for five hours,” he said. “We’ve got some smart guys on our team.”

The impromptu study groups appear to be paying off. While the average SAT score in Washington state is a 1560, Madison Heck scored a 2100. He heads into his senior year of high school with a 3.65 grade point average.

Strawn just finished his junior year at Skyline with a grade point average of 3.4. King boasts a 3.76 grade point average while classmate and team member Giovanni Sanchez-DeLeon, center midfielder, has a grade point average of 3.14.

“We’ve got a great team, full of smarty pants … The Harvard coach said he’s never seen a program like this before,” Nathan Heck said. “For a lot of our kids, they are going to go for the academics, and soccer is just a wonderful driver to get them into the school.”

Joe Mancini, of Sammamish, just graduated from Eastside Catholic High School and is set to play for Seattle University. With a few offers already in the bag, Madison Heck said he is aiming for Yale, Duke or the University of Chicago. At the moment, King has a mutual courtship with Cornell University and Strawn is already committed to play for Saint Martin’s University.

“It’s really interesting now that these are the college recruiting years,” Nathan Heck said. “We’ve got coaches lining the sidelines and emailing them.”

There were plenty of eyes on the team March 24 when the boys clinched the US Youth Soccer National League Red Division title in Las Vegas. With zero goals scored against them, it was their sixth straight tournament win.

“It was a great defense effort by the entire team and we were really proud of ourselves,” King said. “It’s incredibly satisfying. It showed how incredible our defense team is.”

Lillian Tucker: 392-6434, ext. 242, or ltucker@sammamishreview.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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