LAKEWOOD RANCH — The Lakewood Ranch Chargers U13 boys elite soccer team has something to prove — not only to themselves, but also to the rest of the soccer community.
For the past two months, the former Florida Youth Soccer Association State Cup champions have been walking around with a bitter taste in their mouths, after bowing out in the semifinals of this year’s State Cup with a 3-2 loss to the Coral Gables Soccer Toros.
It was not the way they had hoped the tournament would end, but, at the same time, it presented the Chargers with an opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
“No one likes to lose,” coach Tim Mulqueen says. “They played well; the team we played was just really good. It was a tremendous accomplishment in and of itself. I’m proud they got that far. That was one heck of a game.”
Following their unexpected exit, the Chargers returned to the practice field at the Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch with a new mindset.
The players rededicated themselves to the team and mapped out their goals for the remainder of the year, which included making a statement in the U.S. Club Soccer National Premier Champions Cup July 17 through July 22, in Aurora, Colo.
“I’m very proud of these players and what they’ve done,” Mulqueen says. “They came back here with a renewed focus; and it’s clear they want to be able to do something special. A lot of the other teams are coming from major cities, so it’s going to be an exciting time for the boys.”
After clinching the Florida Premier League division title in mid-April, the Chargers qualified for the U.S. Club Soccer National Premier Champions Cup.
It was a night the players won’t soon forget — particularly player Alessandro Ciacco, who was celebrating his birthday. The team defeated the West Florida Flames 4-1 to finish the five-month season 8-1-0.
“It was nothing but pure joy,” 13-year-old center midfielder Henry Howell says. “The stage was set for us to go far. It was a very spirited game.”
Goalkeeper Trevor Mulqueen agrees.
“We work really well together,” Trevor says. “We have a good understanding of where everyone is going to go before we do it.”
With the win, the team will compete against the winners from the 16 other National Premier Leagues across the country.
During the tournament, the Chargers will play three pool-play games before starting single elimination.
The players know the competition will be steep, but they are eager for the challenge of going out of state to play soccer on a national stage.
“It’s been a learning season, and now it’s time to bring it all together for this tournament,” Henry says. “We have something to prove to ourselves, and this is where we need to do it.”
Fellow 13-year-old center midfielder Aristotle Zarris agrees.
“All we can do is try our best,” Aristotle says. “We just have to keep playing like we were before.”
Following their Florida Premier League division title, the Chargers took off a month before returning to practice at the beginning of June. The boys practice four days a week — two days of which are dedicated to strength and conditioning.
“I would love for them to play without fear of (overconfidence),” Mulqueen says. “It’ll be a moment for them to see how other teams play in different parts of the nation.
“I hope they learn that there are good players everywhere,” Mulqueen says. “We have a lot of good players on this team, and I hope they come back with that continued drive to improve. They are very fortunate to be there.”
Following the U.S. Club Soccer National Premier Champions Cup, the Chargers will begin preparing for their upcoming season, which will begin in September, when the team transitions to the U.S. Academy League.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].