In the landscape of premier youth girls soccer, Snohomish United is a relatively small program.
Some announcers even mispronounce the club’s name during matches, mistakenly calling it “Sno-haw-mish.”
But despite a smaller talent pool than many of its opponents, Snohomish United’s top 2005-born girls team is headed to its age group’s biggest stage.
By claiming a state title in May and winning one of four regional tournaments across the country last month, Snohomish United G05 Black earned a spot in next week’s U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships.
“It’s been a dream of mine ever since I started playing soccer,” Snohomish United midfielder Kirsten Crane said. “… It’s kind of like our World Cup for our age.”
Snohomish United will be one of eight teams — four regional champions plus four qualifiers from the U.S. Youth Soccer National League — competing for the 14-and-under girls national title July 23-28 in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas.
“I don’t know if I can even describe it,” forward Chloe Shepherd said. “It’s amazing.”
According to Snohomish United G05 Black’s first-year head coach, Brandon Mitalas, there were approximately 35 players at the team’s tryouts. That’s considerably fewer than many of the programs it faces at the state, regional and national levels. One recent Southern California opponent, he said, drew more than 400 players to its tryouts.
But with stellar goalkeeping, stingy defense, balanced scoring and tight-knit team chemistry, Snohomish United more than made up for any discrepancies in club size.
The Snohomish-based team rattled off 11 consecutive victories in its state and regional tournaments and became the first boys or girls team in its program’s three-decade history to advance to the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships.
And as the only qualifying team from Washington in any of U.S. Youth Soccer’s seven age-based girls national championships, Snohomish United will be carrying the banner for the Evergreen State.
“It’s a pretty special achievement for a pretty small club,” Mitalas said.
Snohomish United G05 Black consists primarily of players from Snohomish County, including four who attend Snohomish School District schools. Five team members have played together in the Snohomish United program for the past five seasons, while the rest joined them in recent years.
The current version of this team began playing together last spring and quickly experienced success, while also developing a bond that players say is closer than in years past.
“We’ve just come together really as a team with our communication and with our (bonding),” midfielder Lauran Pedley said. “We just do everything together and we’re super close, and it’s just crazy to see how far we’ve come.”
Being accepted into this past year’s U.S. Youth Soccer National League helped further the team’s development, providing opportunities to face some of the nation’s top clubs during a December trip to North Carolina and a March trip to Las Vegas.
“I could tell that there were special achievements in the future for this team,” Mitalas said. “… In terms of just their attitude and approach to daily training sessions and whatnot, it was clear to me that I could push the group a little bit harder and kind of set the bar a little bit higher than with your average team.”
Snohomish United got off to a slow start in the six-team 14-and-under state tournament this spring, losing its opener and needing a late goal to earn a draw in its second match. But the team found its groove after that, rebounding with five consecutive victories to claim the state title and advance to the Far West Regional Championships in Boise, Idaho.
“We were kind of backs against the wall after (the first) two matches,” Mitalas said. “We kind of righted the ship a little bit, … and then when we got to regionals, literally everything just clicked for us.”
Snohomish United opened the 18-team regional tournament — which included teams from 12 different states — by winning all three of its group-play matches.
Snohomish United then earned a pair of 2-0 quarterfinal and semifinal wins over Los Angeles-area teams before claiming a 1-0 victory over Forza FC (Utah) in the championship match. Maki Quiyono scored the deciding goal in the 31st minute and Snohomish United posted its fifth consecutive shutout to secure the regional title.
“I didn’t really believe it,” Crane said of her reaction after the final whistle. “It was awesome. We all just kind of ran together and screamed.”
Snohomish United outscored opponents 21-2 in the regional tournament and didn’t allow a goal after the opening match, closing with more than 350 consecutive minutes of shutout soccer.
Mitalas and several players heaped praise on goalkeeper Jade Relkoff, who has been nearly unbeatable in the net.
“Jade was an absolute stud for us at regionals,” Mitalas said. “… She was just a wall. Nothing was getting through her.”
“She made amazing saves (and) won some games for us,” Crane added.
The shutout streak also was a product of the team’s tightly connected defense.
“They were just focused on playing together and, through their actions, basically saying to our opponents, ‘You’re going to have to beat us. We’re not going to give you anything,’” Mitalas said. “… And nothing was (given). Nothing at all.”
Snohomish United showcased its balanced attack at regionals with nine different goal-scorers. Crane led the team with nine goals — including five in a 10-0 rout during group play — and four other players netted multiple goals.
“The sharing of goals was pretty special,” Mitalas said. “Having a team that is goal-dangerous from many different individuals in many different positions … was super, super important.”
Several players also discussed how Mitalas has helped elevate the team. Mitalas, a U.S. Marine, has previous experience as the Edmonds Community College men’s soccer team’s head coach and as an assistant in the Seattle University women’s program.
“He treats us like a college team,” Crane said, “so that’s really cool.”
“He’s really helped us a lot,” Shepherd added, “giving us new ideas on how to tackle something and just kind of bringing us together as a team.”
And now, after toppling larger clubs on its way to the national championships, this talented squad from Snohomish County is set to play for the ultimate prize.
“It’s kind of unbelievable,” defender Madison Woodward said. “I feel like it’s (an) accomplishment of how hard we’ve worked and how we come together as a team and just play well together.”
Snohomish United G05 Black roster
Taylor Browne, Kirsten Crane, Sarah Hammer, Josephine Herrick, Lauran Pedley, Maki Quiyono, Jade Relkoff, Samantha Rohwer, Sydney Shander, Chloe Shepherd, Jacy Springer, Isabelle Thoma, Kenzie Thompson-Sheldon, Madison Woodward