While their counterparts around the country vie for league titles and places in the 2013 NPL Champions Cup this spring, four clubs can rest easy knowing they have already booked their tickets.
The NPL Division of the Oregon Premier League concluded fall league play on Nov. 4, crowning four champions in the U-13 and U-14 age groups: FC Portland Academy Navy U-13 and U-14 boys, EMFC Athletica Blue U-13 girls and Tualatin Hills United SC Onyx U-14 girls. All four teams will advance to the NPL Champions Cup July 18-22 in suburban Denver, where they will take on winners from the other 16 leagues. For one of those squads, it will be a familiar trip -- albeit with different dates and a new location -- and all of them will look to bring the OPL its first NPL national title.
“We’re proud to see these teams advance to the 2013 NPL Champions Cup,” OPL Director of Operations Angela Harrison said. “They excelled in a very competitive fall season and it will be exciting to watch them go up against some of the best clubs from around the nation with a chance to bring a national title back to Oregon.”
Here’s a look at the OPL teams headed to the 2013 NPL Champions Cup:
Boys U-14: FC Portland Academy Navy (11-1-2)
It will be a return trip for FC Portland, which reached last year’s NPL Champions Cup in the U-13 division, where they registered one win in three matches. A year older and playing in the U-14 bracket, the team will be hoping to build off a solid OPL season and fare better at the national championship event this summer. The squad took its league title by a 12-point margin over HSC Freeze, taking command at the top of the table after reeling off six straight wins in September.
“We’re really excited to be going back to the NPL Champions Cup for another chance to bring a national title back to Oregon,” head coach Brandon McNeil said. “Our club had a great season, the players all worked very hard, and we can’t wait to test ourselves against some of the best teams in the country.”
Girls U-14: Tualatin Hills United SC Onyx (14-0-0)
There is no question which OPL side was most dominant this season, as the Onyx romped to a league title by taking all 42 points from 14 matches and scoring 69 goals. That unbeaten streak will be tested by the stiff competition waiting in Denver.
“I am very proud of the THUSC Onyx for their individual work ethic and dedication to each other and our program,” said Tualatin Hills Director of Coaching and Player Development Tom Atencio, who is also a member of the US Club Soccer Board of Directors. “THUSC and Onyx strive to compete on a national level and are very proud to be representing Oregon at the NPL Champions Cup this summer in Colorado.”
Boys U-13: FC Portland Academy Navy (12-1-1)
Not to be outdone by their peers in the older age group, FC Portland’s U-13 squad made sure a double dose of Navy would be headed to the NPL Champions Cup. The squad finished the season with 10 straight wins to edge out WT Copa by four points (37-33), with the key victory coming by way of a 2-0 win in their head-to-head matchup on Oct. 28.
“Obviously we’re very excited about the opportunity to compete for the NPL Champions Cup title,” head coach Chuck Bechtol said. “We had a very good year, and we’re looking forward to the next step.”
Girls U-13: EMFC Athletica Blue (10-1-3)
Rounding out the OPL crew is EMFC Athletica Blue, which outlasted Tualatin Hills United SC Zirconium to take the title by five points. The two squads faced off in the season opener, with Athletica Blue showing a sign of things to come in a 4-2 win. From there, they slipped a bit with three straight draws before winning nine of their last 10 to finish strong. Zirconium could not match that consistency, following a 6-0-0 October with two November draws that ended an otherwise tight title race.
“The girls have worked very hard throughout the year to compete against strong competition in the Oregon Premier League,” head coach Jurgen Ruckaberle said. “I am extremely proud of their work rate, their skills, their commitment and dedication to getting better each day in practice, and all their work paid off with a very impressive fall season with only one loss against very strong competition. We are very excited to travel to Denver in the summer to represent Oregon.”
A list of teams that have qualified for the NPL Champions Cup can be viewed here. Be sure to check back in with NationalPremierLeagues.com for updates throughout the spring as more leagues crown their champions.