Following a 10 month league season and regional championship qualifiers, teams from across the entire United States, each with the hope of bringing home a national championship title for their club, will converge on Westfield, Indiana this week for the 2015 US Club National Premier League Finals. St Louis Scott Gallagher Illinois will be represented by two teams (U13 and U18) both of whom achieved qualficiation last month through the Midwest Developmental Leauge Regional Finals held in Waukegan, Illinois.
In Waukegan last month, after losing their first match in group stage, the ’01 Pre-Academy (U13) coached by Kevin Stoll bounced back with two wins over opponents Derby City Rovers (KY) and Internationals (OH) to secure a berth in the chamionship match. The team fell short of winning the Regional Title in a double overtime thriller to St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri who will also be respesenting the club at the NPL Finals this week.
The SLSG Illinois 18 NPL team, coached by Jeff Besserman, went unbeaten in the group stages of the Midwest Developmental League Regionals with results over Campton United (IL), Chicago Magic (IL) and FC Milwaukee WI). A rematch in the final versus Campton United saw the match go deep into double overtime locked in a draw. Just before the match was to be decided on penalties, SLSG Illinois’ Adam Newman found 2 stoppage time goals to seal the regional championship for the Collinsville based club.
Following the conclusion of all of the Regional qualifying events held across the country, national qualifying teams were seeded based on season records and strength of league in order to form groups for the National Premier League Finals which will run July 9through July 13th. The group stage will consist of 3 matches, one per day, over three days. Group winners will be reseeded for semi-final match-ups with the winners of those matches competing for a national championship on Tuesday, June 13 . St. Louis Scott Gallagher Illinois last won the National Premier League Finals in 2013 and the two SLSG Illinois teams competing this week will be vying for the clubs 4 National Championship since winning it’s first in 2011.
The Midwest Developmental League is one of several US Club National Premier Leagues across the United States and consists of nearly all the US Development Academy clubs in the Midwest. According to NPL Director, Jon Burklo, “League based competition is a crucial part of our player development platform. The traditional state cup model puts an emphasis on 4-6 matches per year that take place in a very short period of time. The opportunity to develop players when you can count on competitive and meaningful games week in and week out over a 10 month period is a significantly more effective development tool compared to a 4 week competition. It allows our coaches to plan, implement and execute on a player development plan that includes meaniningful feedback which comes in the form of games. Every game matters, but they occur at a frequency that allows coaches to affect change in their players through informed training sessions over the course of the year. The U13s are a perfect example of the value league based competition has in developing players.”
While this is the first entrance onto the national stage for the curent U13s, for many of the U18s, competing at this level has become something they expect from themselves on a yearly basis. Most of the players on the 18 NPL were a part of the SLSG Illinois team which advanced all the way to the semi-finals of the National Premier League Finals last year in Greensboro, North Carolina before falling 4-3 to eventual National Champions CFC Cruz Azul. Additionally, several of the core players in the group were members of St. Louis Scott Gallagher Illinois’ first national championship team in 2011 when they defeated Olympica FC out of Southern California in the National Championship match in Boise, Idaho.
“The core of this age group is a group of individuals with a winning mentality. Over the past 5 years, they have advanced to the national championship series on multiple occasions.” This consistent ability to compete and succeed at this level has, according to Director of Coaching, Blake Decker, played a role in changing the culture of the club. “Since the national chamionship won in this age group in 2011, St. Louis Scott Gallagher Illinois teams have gone on to claim 2 additional national titles, 1 national runner-up, 1 national semi-finalist and 6 regional championships. Now, at the beginning of every season, our players know that competing and succeeding at this level is a possibility to the point where it has become the expecation for them to meet. Six years ago, this was not the case. This age group and the guys in it, showed it was possible and the younger players in our club saw this and have sought to follow in their footsteps.”
Winning a national championship is no easy feat and both teams have a difficult road to travel in their quest to bring home SLSG Illinois fourth title. In group play, the ’01 Pre-Academy will face off against opponents who hail from Oregon all the way to New York City: FC Alliance (OR), New York Red Bulls (NY), FC Stars (MA). The 18s will match up against fellow Development Academy club SAC (MD), as well as Dynamos SC (TX) and Chicago’s Inter FC (IL) in their three group play matches.
It is a grueling schedule against some of the best teams in the country. When asked about how to prepare a team mentally for competing at this level, SLSG Illinois U18 NPL coach Jeff Besserman explained, “We try to keep the focus on what we can control: our diligence in preparing for the event, our performance on the field and not forgetting to enjoy the opportunity we’ve worked so hard for. At the end of every 90 minutes, we want to walk out feeling like we did everything we could, gave everything we had; no regrets, no what-if. If we can do this each match, we increase the chance of achieving the result we want and even if we do not, we can still feel good about the performance we put on the field. All we can control is our preparation, our effort, our focus and our commitment so that is what we focus on.”
Beautiful facilities, stiff competition and the opportunity to earn the right to claim “best in the nation”; it’s a competitors dream scenario. Decker added, “Just to reach this stage of the season is an accomplishment in itself. The entire St. Louis Scott Gallagher Illinois family is extremely proud of the work these boys have put in this season. They have represented themselves, their team, their club, their families and their communities honorably. Regardless of the results, we know they will do the same this week in Indiana.”
For more information, schedules and results for the National Premier League Finals please visit http://www.nationalpremierleagues.com/NPLFinals/2015NPLFinals/