In the world of youth soccer, dreams are woven from the threads of hard work, dedication, and teamwork. For the Club Ohio 2009 Boys National Team, this dream reached its pinnacle this past July when they were crowned the US Youth Soccer (USYS) National Champions in Orlando. This remarkable achievement was a testament to their unwavering commitment to the sport and each other. We had the privilege of speaking with their coach, Ika Khutsidze to get an inside look at their journey.
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The emotions were raw, and the joy was palpable when the Club Ohio 2009 Boys secured their first USYS National Title. Coach Ika shared how he and Assistant Coaches Mike Hickey and Adam Jones couldn't contain their happiness, “We were dancing and celebrating with our players during the award ceremony. It was the first USYS National title for our players, coaching staff and Club Ohio Soccer.” It was a moment that etched itself into the memories of the players, coaching staff, and Club Ohio Soccer as a whole.
A Showdown of Titans
The final match against Sporting Columbus added an extra layer of intensity to an already high-stakes tournament. Both teams hailed from Columbus, Ohio, and were familiar rivals. The Club Ohio team prepared meticulously, both mentally and tactically, to face this significant challenge.
“Sporting is a very technical team with lots of talented players and a great coach,” explained Coach Ika. “Tactically our game strategy was restricting the space for our opponent on our defensive and middle thirds so we could force their players to make mistakes with the ball, which the players executed great. Offensively, our plan was to use our speed and skills in one-on-one situations to exploit their defenders on our opponents defensive third. We have enough players with fast speed and good foot skills on the team so we knew we could make it hard for them to defend against us.”
The Unique Blend of Loyalty and Aspiration
The Club Ohio National Team comprises players who have already been identified for the Columbus Crew Academy teams. This blend of club loyalty and individual aspirations fueled their cohesion and performance on the field. The players were determined to leave their mark before advancing to higher levels of play, and their commitment to the team's goals shone through.
“All of our players and coaching staff knew that the USYS National championship would be the last tournament for Lincoln Justice and Zach Lloyd so our goal as a team was to finish our last tournament strong.” Coach Ika explained that he had talked with his players before the Orlando trip and they shared how they really wanted to win Nationals with their team before moving on. “It made our team even more committed to our goal.”
Leadership Strategies that Shine
The leadership strategies employed by Coach Ika and his coaching staff played a pivotal role in guiding the team to victory. Meticulous preparation, daily team meetings, and a commitment to excellence off the field ensured that the players were focused and motivated. Behind the scenes, numerous individuals in the club worked tirelessly to provide the team with the support they needed.
“When the tournament started,” Coach Ika shared, " I was watching our opponents' games with our coaching staff, analyzing it and creating the game plan for the next day so we were well prepared for each game.”
Navigating Through Challenges
No championship journey is without its challenges. A pivotal moment came in a group stage game against Juventus, where the team had to claw their way back from a deficit to secure a tie, ultimately advancing them further in the tournament. It was a test of their resilience and character, and they passed with flying colors.
The players' ability to maintain composure and focus in high-pressure situations is a testament to their competitive spirit. They understood that concentration and intensity were non-negotiable, especially in big games. The lessons learned from past experiences strengthened their resolve. “We lost the Elite Academy League national championship game in the last 2 minutes last year. It was a very painful loss for us, but we learned our lesson from it that we cannot lose our concentration for a second in big games. It made us even stronger and gave us more experience as a team which helped us in Orlando.”
Fostering Talent and Development
Club Ohio's success in nurturing high-caliber players is attributed to a strong coaching staff with extensive experience. “We have strong coaching staff in Club Ohio, former professional soccer players, who have broad experience and do an amazing job with the players.” Coach Ika, also gives credit to the coaches who worked with his players before him “Coach Terry Smith was coaching the boys before me and assistant coach Mike Hickey took the team over 3 years ago. Coach Terry did a remarkable job with the players, and he helped the boys to develop their foot skills/technique at an early age.”
Club Ohio emphasizes technical development from an early age, fostering a competitive training environment that allows players to thrive and grow.
Coach Ika believes Club Ohio’s success can be a springboard for success across the region. “I know lots of people from Columbus watched the national championship game between the two local teams. I know that a team from Columbus winning the championship game impacts many young players in our club and in Ohio. They saw that they can set big goals in soccer and it’s possible to accomplish those goals if they work hard.”
Club Ohio plans to build upon this championship success by providing competitive opportunities, allocating resources for training facilities, and seeking experienced coaches. The goal is to showcase players to college coaches and create a pathway for young talents to flourish.
The boys understand the responsibility that comes with being National Champions. With new additions to the team, they are poised to defend their title, aware that the journey won't be easy. However, their determination to keep improving and their pride in their achievements will undoubtedly set the tone for their future endeavors in soccer.
In the end, the Club Ohio 2009 Boys' triumph is not just about winning a championship; it's a testament to the power of teamwork, perseverance, and unwavering dedication to the beautiful game. Their journey serves as an inspiration to all young athletes who dare to dream big and work relentlessly to achieve their goals on and off the field.
Coach Ika left us with these words when asked about the future “I am looking forward to coaching them. We understand that it won’t be easy to defend our national title, but I know our players will continue working extremely hard to keep improving and do their best to do it again. I am enormously proud of them, and I am looking forward to our upcoming soccer season.”