The local soccer club culture shifts to a national stage this week, and many top men and women's players who dominated the narrative for their high school teams over the last year are well-represented.
Two Chicago-area girls club powerhouse programs are set to compete for the ultimate brass ring at the United States U-Soccer nations in Overland, Kansas, beginning Tuesday, July 23rd.
In the U18 girls division, the North Shore-dominated FC United Select of Northfield made its first ever regional appearance after they defeated Team Chicago Academy-Botafogo 2-1 last month.
It was the first time in seven tries FC United Select beat the Aurora-based program. Graduated Glenbrook North star Montana Paley, who scored twice in the semifinal victory over Eclipse, assisted goals by Rockford Boylan's Abby Reed and Maine South's Alli Curry for the team's 2-0 lead that held up.
The program is coached by Loyola coach Craig Snower, and features four players that made the Sun-Times all-area teams, keyed by the Ramblers' dynamic combination of two-time first team defender Corey Burns (Iowa) and her sister, rising sophomore Devin Burns. Valparaiso-bound April Cronin, a two-time all-area player who led Glenbrook South to a fourth-place finish in Class 3A in 2012, is another standout. The fourth all-area player is New Trier standout Tricia Lybrook.
Devin Burns, who set a freshman-scoring record at Loyola in the spring, is the only underclassman in the group. The vast majority of the players are recent graduates who are about to begin their college careers. Buffalo Grove rising senior Skylar Groth, a lithe and fluid midfielder who played a decisive part in the Bison's school-record 25-win season and fourth-place Class 3A finish, is one of the best of the remaining high school aged players.
Nine of the 18 players on Snower's roster are college scholarship athletes.
In the two-pool, eight-team format, the teams play three preliminary pool play games. FC United Select, which is in pool B, drew VSA Heat Blue of Haymarket, Virginia Tuesday night at 7:30. The winners of the two pools square off Sunday, July 28th.
Team Chicago Academy-Botafogo is in pool A and matches up against St. Louis-based Lou Fusz Wipke at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. The team features five players from the Sun-Times' first team All-area, headlined by Player of the Year Ashley Handwork (Marquette) of Plainfield North, Gatorade Player of the Year Zoe Swift (Kentucky) of two-time state champion Naperville North, Illinois-bound Meegan Johnston of Carmel, Neuqua Valley star Gianna Dal Pozzo (University of Miami) and Waubonsie Valley's Rachele Armand (Louisville).
With key supportive talent from top players from Waubonsie Valley, Neuqua Valley and Plainfield North, the team is stacked, with 18 of the team's 19 players college bound. Handwork's younger sister, Heather Handwork, who has verbally committed to Marquette, and Wheaton Warrenville South rising junior Alexis Jakuszewski, are the only high school players on the team.
The Naperville-based NSA Jaguars program qualified two different age groups for the regionals. The U16 team is led by first team All-Area star Abbie Boswell, who scored 28 goals for state champion Naperville North as a sophomore. Waubonsie Valley rising sophomore Paige Filipek and York twin sisters Alyssa and Jaime Kovatchis, both rising juniors, are the other standouts.
The program's U14 also qualified.
The Oak Brook-based Eclipse Elite Black 97-98 qualified for the U15 division. The team's entire roster is composed of players who are entering their sophomore year.
In the men's division, two local programs also qualified in the U18. The Lemont-based Raiders FC Premier and Naperville-set Galaxy 94/95 Blue are both in Pool B and are scheduled to play each other Thursday, July 25th at 10:30 a.m. Pat Flynn (DePaul), the Sun-Times Player of the Year for two-time state runner-up Naperville Central, is the top player for Galaxy.