A local U16 team from Penn Fusion Academy is one win away from capturing a national title in the Elite National Premier League championships after a 2-0 win over Texans SC Houston on Friday in Colorado.
Penn Fusion scored goals early in each half and kept a clean sheet thanks to some stellar goalkeeping to book a spot in the final against GPS Massachusetts, which beat San Diego Surf 3-1 in the other semifinal on Friday.
Team captain Andrew Rosenbaum opened the scoring early when he dispossessed a Texans defender and buried a curling shot from 25 yards out.
Playing with an early lead, Penn Fusion had to sustain a great deal of pressure and nearly conceded on a free kick Alex Dolce was able to make a fine save on. Early in the second half they doubled their lead on a perfectly executed counter attack led to a Driss Benslimane goal.
“That second goal was absolutely huge,” Rosenbaum said.
Second half goalkeeper Connor Smith came up with another game-defining play when he made a double save while center back Tyler Reid also had a strong game anchoring a defense that did well closing out the game with the always dangerous 2-0 lead.
Head coach Jonathan Rhodes said he was pleased with how the team played after struggling at times to move the ball in the qualifying tournament in Massachusetts.
“Today they showed quite a lot of confidence on the ball,” he said. “That was really pleasing to see them get back to their style of play.”
Though it was the first meeting between the two teams, the scouting report from Penn Fusion coach Jamie Scott helped the team prepare for their opponent.
“Jamie Scott did an amazing scouting report that told exactly what we were going up against and what their tendencies were,” Rosenbaum said. “We had a good sense of where they like to play and the attacking midfielder that I had to defend for most of the game,”
They’ll need to rely on scouting again in facing GPS Massachusetts for the first time in the final, but will want to produce a similar performance dictating their style of play.
“Our goal has always been to get to nationals and play for a national championship,” Rosenbaum said. “Ever since coming over to Penn Fusion a few years ago my goal was to play college soccer and win a national championship. I have a chance to do one of those things tomorrow.”
As is the case for most clubs playing at a high level in youth soccer, winning championships is an outgrowth of individual player development as opposed to a means to an end. That doesn’t mean the players want it any less.
“This is just another opportunity for us to get better and continue to develop,” Rhodes said. “They’re a competitive group of boys and they’re getting their reward for their competitive nature.”
This year’s championships in Aurora, Colorado are the first for the Elite National Premier League, a national boys league started by U.S. Club Soccer that is similar to the Elite Clubs National League they have operated that has been a top youth league for girls since 2009.
Penn Fusion won the Northeast Region with a 12-0-2 record and qualified for nationals through the regional tournament in Massachusetts in early July, advancing out of group play with less than a half-minute left to play and booking a spot at nationals with a 3-2 win over Cedar Stars Hudson Valley.
Saturday’s final will be streamed live on www.elitenationalpremierleague.com at 11 a.m. eastern time.