Earlier this month the Northern Illinois Football Club U18 boys soccer team won the U19 NISL/U.S. Club State Cup in the double-elimination bracket by going 6-1 in the tournament.
Their State Cup victory earned NIFC a berth in the US Soccer Regional competition in Libertyville this weekend. The tournament kicks off Friday.
“This is a whole new territory, and I am really excited,” senior forward Sean Woodford, of DeKalb, said. “With some of the teams that are playing, it will be some good competition and it seems like it will be a lot of fun. I am just excited to see what this next level is.”
This NIFC team is built like a high school team with local players from Maple Park, Hinckley, Sugar Grove, Genoa, Sycamore and DeKalb filling out the roster. Also, the team is full of high school players from incoming seniors to freshmen.
At NIFC, after U14, players immediately move up to the U18 level. This can be a big jump for the younger athletes, but head coach Ross Brady says it is a good experience.
“It is great for them,” Brady said. “They can struggle at times, but they have to do that for high school. When they play high school ball, they have to go against seniors. They get to play against older players and faster players.”
One of those younger players is Hinckley’s Jake Bullard. The sophomore has to play the holding midfielder and he has a big role for the team.
Also, the seniors make a major difference for the team and the program as a whole. Players like DeKalb’s Dylan Hottsmith, Skyler Weishaar and Woodford have been playing for NIFC since it was established when they were younger.
“We have a lot of talent and for the seniors going off to college this is our last time to play at a high school level.” Hottsmith said. We are going to cherish every second and leave it all on the field when it’s all said and done.”
NIFC made it to this regional through some adversity and heroics. The team lost its second match of the tournament, and had to fight from the loser’s bracket to get back into it.
NIFC beat JaHbat, 3-2 and 2-1, in the final two matches to win the State Cup tournament. NIFC were down in the semifinals and the first championship match, but it fought back for victories.
“We always do well when we face adversity,” Woodford said. “We kept going down and we didn’t give up. It lit a fire under us, and we went ahead and got up to win those games. That is something that is unique to our team.”
Brady said this senior class has done well so far this season, but can still do well at the regional tournament.
“For the senior group, it may be the last time they step on the field together because they will all be at colleges and going their separate ways,” Brady said. “And, they really ended on a high note.”
Go to http://soccer.sincsports.com/TTSchedules.aspx?tid=USCLUBD&year=2014&team=ILM95115&stid=USCLUBD&syear=2014&div=U19M01#hdg to follow the regional matches this weekend.