LAKEWOOD — The festive atmosphere at the U.S. Youth Soccer Washington State Championship 2004 finals — a.k.a. the state cup — might have tempted some graylings among the faithful to hum the aging ditty about giants performing cartwheels and statues sporting high heels.
Acrobatics in goal helped Snohomish United Clash fans avoid that embarrassment as their team celebrated a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Spokane Shadow in the girls under-14 title game at Clover Park High School on Sunday.
Goalkeeper Madison Goverde anchored the staunch backline defense with her fourth straight shutout and Sara O’Neal scored a second-half goal as the Clash advanced to the Far West Regional tournament at Spokane in June.
"I’m trying to take a deep breath," Clash coach Shannon Murray said. "To say this year was a success would be an understatement. We started getting ready (for 2004 state cup) one year ago at this time. It was a long year and the girls deserved it."
Despite losing state title games, two other Snohomish County teams — the Snohomish United 88 BU-15 and the Edmonds-based Northwest Nationals Volante GU-17 — were awarded wild-card berths to the Far West Regional. The berths were based on a random draw system.
United 88, which dropped a 4-1 decision to the Crossfire Premier 88, and the Northwest Nationals, edged 1-0 by Crossfire Premier 86, will join the Clash and the other 15 state champions. A total of nine boys teams and nine girls teams — the sole survivors from among the 650 U-12 through U-19 youth teams that entered the tournament — will represent Washington at the Far West Regional.
At the regional, 16 teams in each age and gender category will be divided in to four-team pools. After a three-game round robin, the top two teams in each pool advance to single-elimination quarterfinal games. Far West Regional champions qualify for the nationals at Orlando, Fla., in July.
In other title games involving Snohomish County teams, Snohomish United 86 boys U-17 was defeated 2-1 by FC United 86. In girls U-13, the Mukilteo-based Shooting Stars Red suffered a 5-0 setback against the Crossfire Premier 90.
In the Fred Meyer Challenge Cup, the Northwest Nationals GU-11 lost in the championship to the Emerald City 92 by a score of 1-0. The Skagit Storm 87 bested Snohomish United Power 2-0 in the GU-16 title game.
While the state championship tournament started in January, planning for the event started at least six months ago for most teams. The finals for U-16 through U-19 were held March 6-7, and the U-12 through U-15 wrapped up over this past weekend.
"From an organizational standpoint, it’s kind of like putting a soccer tournament and a carnival together at the same time," event co-chairman Dave Burrough said with a laugh. "It’s great soccer and wonderful kids."
In the days leading up to the finals, each player was required to submit his or her original birth certificate for age verification.
At the finals, players were separated from parents and fans two hours before their game and escorted onto the field by tournament officials.
In each game the teams occupied benches on the west side of the field, while fans were confined to the east grandstand. Sideline access was strictly limited to players, coaches and tournament officials.
"Sometimes, we’re concerned about parents and fans getting a little too enthusiastic," Burrough said. "But we’ve had absolutely none of that."
The public-address announcer introduced each player and the national anthem was played prior to the start of each game.
"I like the pageantry," Snohomish United 88 BU-15 coach Paul Hurme said. "Getting to the final is a reward. From the moment you come in you’re treated well."
"We try to make it positive so everyone has a good time," said Burrough, who added that having near-perfect weather on both weekends of the finals was a welcome bonus.
The Clash — who took their lumps last summer playing against U-15 teams in the Super Y League, which includes top programs from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia — capped a seven-game run through the state cup with no losses.
Goverde allowed one goal in three pool-play victories and then posted four consecutive 1-0 shutouts.
"Madison is kind of a different breed," Murray said of Goverde, who allowed just two goals in 10 games dating back to October. "She enjoys going to practices and getting beat to death by a hundred shots on goal. She’s a leader, and at game time she is ready to play."
After a scoreless first half, the Clash broke through in the second half when Jenna Herman lofted a free kick to the left side of the penalty box and O’Neal knocked the ball into the goal.
"Their ‘keeper came out, but Sara beat her to it and headed it in," Murray said.
While Lacee Ross and Kristi Kingma have led the Clash offensively, Murray also noted the phenomenal defensive effort his team has shown since last fall.
"The girls are proud and excited about the opportunity and the responsibility of representing the (Snohomish United) club and the state at the regional," Murray said. "I couldn’t be more thankful to have a group of girls so goal oriented, competitive and driven."
In its 4-1 loss to the Crossfire Premier 88, Snohomish United 88 ran into a bit of a juggernaut. The team has won five consecutive state titles at progressive age levels.
The Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association-based Crossfire won the Far West Regional championship last year at the BU-14 level. In three previous meetings Snohomish United lost each time by a single goal.
"It’s tough. We knew it was a tall order," said Hurme, whose team had just12 players available. "But, a lot of other teams weren’t here and we still get to go to the regional."
Brandon Kelly got United 88 within 3-1 late in the first half.
Goalie Kaleb Kuehn repeatedly made great saves, but the Crossfire attack was unrelenting.
"They just kept coming at me," Kuehn said. "I was getting tired, but I had to stay with it."
Likewise with his teammate Brian Ferrin, who played all 80 minutes after being considered questionable with a turf-toe injury.
Maybe that’s the sort of indomitable spirit necessary to be successful in soccer, a sport that is nothing if it is not unrelenting.
As evidence, consider that United 88 scheduled tryouts for the 2004-2005 season last night.
The Clash tryouts are tonight.
"We’re jumping right into it," Murray said with a laugh, then added. "But then we’ll take some time off to give these girls a break."
Washington State Youth Soccer Association state championships
The state cup is the culmination of a statewide select soccer that started nearly a year ago