Two teams from Fort Wayne will take part in the U.S. Youth Soccer Region II Championships, and, though they are from different clubs, they share a common trait.
Both succeed partly because their players have been together for around eight years.
There is a high level of camaraderie. The players can anticipate each other’s moves and it leads to success.
The under-19 boys Fort Wayne Sport Club Blau team and the Fort Wayne United FC 98 West Heat, which plays in the under-18 division, both emerged from the Indiana State Cup tournament as champions in early June and advanced to the Midwest Championships in Westfield beginning Friday.
"It’s definitely a big deal for me. And I can speak for the whole team on this, actually, since we’ve been playing together since we were 10 years old," said 18-year-old attacking midfielder Luke Unger, who attended Carroll, plays for Sport Club Blau and will play in college for Huntington University.
In the State Cup, his team beat the Fort Wayne United FC 97 Academy 1-0 in the semifinals and the Millennium Soccer Academy 97B team 2-1 in the finals.
Unger’s teammates include Cameron Fox and Nathan Dove of Northrop, Jacob Hill of Carroll and Tyler LaBorde of Leo.
"We’re a very defensive team and can counterattack really well," Unger said. "We have very good chemistry on the team. Everyone knows everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. Everyone plays to those strengths and that helps out a lot."
These club tournaments will help the many players going on to compete in college.
"It’s great preparation because you get to see what it’s like to play together at a high level and with a fast pace," Unger said. "It’s the same thing at college but faster, and it’s good to get the knowledge and experience."
The United FC 98 West Heat cruised through the State Cup by going 3-0 and outscoring its opponents 10-0 in group play, then beating the Indiana Premier SC 98B Elite 5-0 and the Westside United FC 98 Green 3-0.
"The kids have been together, the core of them, for like eight years," coach Dave Kurtz said.
"The chemistry and ability to attack out of the back quickly and going forward, they’re pretty well organized."
The United West Heat is out for redemption this season, after losing 3-2 in a younger division last year in the semifinals of the Midwest Championships to the Chicago Magic, which went on to win the national championship.
"They’ve got a pretty high expectation to win the regional championship this year," said Kurtz, whose squad is made up mostly of players from Northeast and Northwest Indiana.
Among the players are Bradley recruit John Pollifrone of Bishop Dwenger, Payton Smalley of Celina, Ohio, Crown Point’s Connor Keaveney and Brad Kurtz, Valparaiso’s Nathan Dawson and Chesterton’s Trent Weller, who is being scouted by major Division I programs.
"(Looking ahead), just basically we need to concentrate on keeping possession of the ball longer and keeping the ball on our feet longer and being patient, basically looking through the middle and using our outside," Kurtz said. "We use our outside (midfielders) pretty good and we also need to stay healthy and keep our mental edge, be composed on the ball and not get caught. … We need to play our game and be patient."
Region II includes Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The National Championships will be in Frisco, Texas, beginning July 26.