1988 CASL Elite
U-14 Boys USYSA William J. “Billy” Goaziou Cup
2003 National Champion
2015 National Hall of Honor
First, here are the facts. The 1988 CASL Elite were the 2003 U-14 USYSA Boys National Champions. With their success, they became the first boys’ club team (and second squad overall) from North Carolina to reach the top. Only the 1977 Raleigh Spartans (1995 U-18 Girls USYSA Francis J. “Frank” Kelly Cup National Champion and 2013 NC Soccer HOF National Champions Hall of Honor inductees) had gone so far. The team’s state record over their first four years was 94-6-8, with a 17-0-1 mark in 2003. Ten players from that team went on to play collegiately.
Proof of success, then, is inscribed on the trophy and on the stat sheets. But as any seasoned coach will point out (as well as the players, with the passage of time), it ultimately comes back, in retelling, to the road and the journey. And what a journey it was.
It had its beginning, perhaps, in 2002 when the Elite had captured the State Cup and had become a U.S. Club National Finalist, losing 2-1 to the Chicago Magic. They had tasted success, but the biggest prize had eluded them. So head coach Bruce Talbot and assistant Eric Dean set out to create a team with closeness, boys whose reliance on each other could make the difference when it came to down to inches in the box. This would involve time with each other and lots of “gaming,” with the prerequisite televisions, X-Boxes and long cables. There were also sessions dealing with trust, respect and self-respect. Soon enough, though, the real game was on.
Greensboro would host the USYSA Region III finals, and the Elite would make the short ride back home as Region III champion brimming with close-game confidence after 6-5 (PKs) and 3-1 (PKs) wins. However, in their opening USYSA national finals game, played in Germantown, MD, they lost to the Nether Providence (PA) Mustangs 2-1. Being that it was round-robin play, CASL was in a bit of a hole. But they would respond by thumping Crossfire-James (WA) 4-1 and Vardar (MI) 5-0, so some swagger was back with a PA rematch.
With seven minutes left, Nether would take 1-0 lead on a PK, one that was initially stopped by GK Jarrett Davis, only to rebound in. With few chances being created by the Elite, the time agonizingly wound down as Tyler Lassiter took on three defenders and put the ball far post on the head of Watson Williams. Game tied. Unbelievable!
There was so little time left when Williams scored that some otherwise loyal fans would have to come back to their seats. But once sudden-death overtime began, they wouldn’t be there long. Leading scorer Brett King would head in the winner five minutes into it, and soon enough the cup was headed south – to North Carolina.
In the game of soccer, one learns soon enough that when a team is one goal behind, anything is possible (see Rapinoe to Wambach, 2011 Women’s World Cup). But when it does happen for you, especially under such tough circumstances, you start trying to come up with well-intentioned explanations. And that’s fine. Analysis has its place. But here is one final fact: The memory will always be there – of a game, of a team, of coaches, of a season. Knowing that, we recognize the boys (and the good people that guided and supported them) of summer 2003.