Region III U17s: Group C loaded with talent

Tampa Bay United Premier coach Scotty Moniz wasted no time voicing his thoughts on his team’s grouping for the 2012 US Youth Soccer Region III Championships: “It’s the group of death.”

“You’ve got the state champion from Texas, the state champion from Oklahoma, and the state champion from South Carolina. There’s not going to be an easy game anywhere in there.”

Oklahoma FC, South Carolina United, and Solar Chelsea (Texas) round out Group C, stacked with talent and all kinds of potential.

“All four teams are really good quality teams that play great soccer,” says Moniz. “They all have experience and talent. It’s certainly going to be difficult.”

Moniz’s Tampa Bay United were quarterfinalists last year before falling to eventual champion CESA 1-0. The biggest challenge, according to Moniz, has been replacing star players who have left for soccer academies across the country.

Three players from last year’s squad have found a home with academies. And while it takes time to replace those standouts, Moniz says it’s a good problem to have.

“I’m really proud of those kids that have moved on,” he says. “Our job as coaches is to open up as many doors as possible. And the guys who have come in to fill those spots, they haven’t missed a beat.”

Some of those players have turned out to be the new stars of this team. They join veterans like Sean Young and Noah Franke who man the midfield for Tampa Bay United, or Dakota Copestick, the big central midfielder on this squad. Young gun Michael Spezza, who plays a year up, just may be the biggest offensive scoring threat.

They’ll need all of them to play well to survive the group of death.

Pre-Event Favorites

Concorde Fire (Group D) – The defending National Champions will need to play well in Greensboro to advance to July’s US nationals.

Jacksonville United (Group A) – A good showing at the Disney Showcase in December and the Adidas Blue Chip Showcase in April have proven this team’s mettle.

Albion Hurricanes (Group B) – Their success in National League and in State Cup give them a good chance at Regionals.

Tampa Bay United (Group C) – Must survive the “group of death”

Solar Chelsea (Group C) – A long resume includes a North Texas State Cup, a Texas Summer League championships, and a good showing at the Disney Showcase.

Under-17 Players to Watch

Parker Dixon, GK, Jacksonville United – This Central Florida commit can hold down the back line

Matthew Tulli, GK, Solar Chelsea – Had a strong showing at last year’s regionals and this year’s State Cup

Matthew Aurednik, F, South Carolina United – Region III ODP team at the Thanksgiving Interregional

Jackson Boonstra, Brentwood – Region III ODP

Tyler Long, Brentwood – Region III ODP

Justin Savinon, GK, Cape Fear – Region III ODP

Connor Quiggle, Brentwood – Region III ODP

Forrest Denio, AHFC – Region III ODP