Playing shorthanded while playing five games in six days is no way to win a soccer tournament, at least for most teams.
That wasn't the case for the Lyons Township Soccer Club U18 Union team.
LTSC recently won the US Youth Soccer Region II title despite having just a handful of subs available.
"It was quite a huge effort by the boys," head coach Paul Murphy said. "We only had 15 players going in, and you're allowed 18.
"It was a huge effort by the boys. We had to defend like crazy but we were always up to the task."
The regional title marks the furthest advancement of any team in the recent history of LTSC, which is based out of The Max in McCook. Next up for the Union squad is the US Youth Soccer National Championships July 25 to 30 in Frisco, Texas.
The squad won its first two games of regional group play in Sioux Falls, S.D., relatively easily, scoring a 4-1 win against FC Pride 99 Elite Red (Ind.) in the tourney opener June 23 before defeating Pacesetter SC 99 Villa Red (Ohio) 3-1 the next day. The games got tighter from there on out.
Downers Grove North incoming senior Jack Richards scored late in the second half of a 1-0 win against Javanon SC 99 (Kent.) that clinched a group win for LTSC.
Richards and Lyons Township's Nathan Rusk scored equalizers late in the second half against Nationals Union 99 Black (Mich.) in the semifinals. LTSC won 3-2 on penalty kicks. Richards scored in regulation in the final against OP Green (Ohio) in the final June 28, and LTSC won the title with a 5-4 victory in penalty kicks.
Murphy pointed to a couple keys to success for LTSC.
"First, we followed the game plan," the coach said. "Every game we had a specific game plan, which was to try and score the first goal, impose our will on the other team and make it hard to play against us.
"In every game except for the semifinal we always got the first goal, which gave us a psychological edge."
Richards tallied six goals in the tournament to be the leading scorer for the age group. Rusk added four goals, 2017 Lyons Township graduate Isaiah Nieves scored once, and incoming LT senior Matt Vear stood tall in net. Vear stopped four shootout penalty kicks combined in the semifinals and finals.
"Matthew and Jack were fantastic, but everybody else was phenomenal," Murphy said. "We're not a team with a star individual. We're just better when we play together as a team."
The break between the regional tournament and Nationals gives LTSC's Union team, which includes Hinsdale Central students Sander Adriani and Brady McCay and York varsity player Christian Waldschmidt, a chance to recover and heal some injuries. Murphy expects to have 17 players make the trip to Texas with an unparalleled amount of confidence after winning the regional.
"We're not going to change anything," Murphy said. "We're going to continue to play our game and do what we're good at. We're not going to adjust. We'll tell them, 'It got you this far. Don't change anything.'
"If we do the same things we have always done, we have a chance."
LTSC U18 Union
3 Matt Vear
6 Charlie Clarke
8 Jack Richards
10 Tate Riordan
15 Nathan Rusk
16 Sander Adriani
21 Adam McGahay
23 Isaiah Nieves
26 Philip Panopoulos
31 Nicholas Jacobs
33 Eric Gradilla
36 Tiernan Guinn
40 Samuel DeBoer
41 Brady McKay
42 Quinn Fraser
47 Charles Hall
54 Owen Allen
Head coach: Paul Murphy
Assistant coach: Andrew Parry