This week is a big week for two Oklahoma Energy FC youth teams as they begin their quest for a U.S. Youth National title at the U.S. Youth tournament in Frisco, Texas. The ’98 Boys team and the ’99 Girls team each are playing in the event.
The journey began with club play at the Oklahoma State Cup in June where OEFC teams captured 11 of the 18 youth state championships. Nine of those teams traveled in late June to the Region 3 tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina. Six of the nine teams advanced from bracket play, four of those six made the semifinals and three landed in the finals, with the ’98 boys coming away as the Region 3 champs.
Energy FC assistant coach Mark Howard coaches two different teams in OEFC. The ’07 and ’02 boys teams. His ’02 boys team was one of the four squads to make the semifinals where they ended up losing to the eventual Region 3 champions.
Howard recognizes the players in the OEFC program have made great strides to get where they are today, are competitive and still have room to improve.
“The team that we (’02 boys) lost to in the semifinals were a DA team and are training at least four days a week, compared to the two days a week that we train. They saw the level and that’s what I keep coming back to. That’s where we should be aiming toward and that’s what I’m trying to set them up for.”
Howard continues, “I think that in a couple of years, as Oklahoma continues to adapt, it will make everyone better. The Energy can benefit, Oklahoma Soccer Association can benefit, the ODP can benefit, the players will benefit as well. I had one boy that was invited to the national camp. I’d like to be able to send three or four there. There is talent in Oklahoma, it’s just guiding it.”
Howard understands the work that the ’98 boys team has put in preparing to play in the national finals is the same type of work his teams will have to put in to get to that next level.
“I watched a couple of games of Jesse’s team, the 98/99 boys team, and they did an exceptional job and won convincingly. Now that I’ve gotten them at such a young age (the ‘07s), I’ve seen the level when we come up against some of these quality teams from different locations…it’s high and we have to be prepared.”
As Howard grows with his team, he sees setting goals as a method of motivating them to get to the next level in their soccer-playing career.
“All players in OEFC should have that next step as their goal. If their goal is to make the first team, then aim at that. Once they make a first team, then can they win the State Cup. Then once they win the State Cup, can they win Regionals. My teams have gotten a taste of the success and that is what I’m trying to guide them to.”
At the time of this writing, the ’98 Boys won their first match 2-0, but lost their next two matches and were eliminated from the tournament. The the ’99 Girls team lost their first match, but won their second match to remain alive in the event.