An overnight bus ride to Maryland might not have made for a great night of sleep, but the destination was well worth it for a trio of Tri-Cities boys soccer players.
St. Charles East's Jordan Moore and Tyler Robbins and Batavia's Ian Larson were part of the Chicago Fire 17U team that advanced to this week's U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships. The team was ousted from the tournament Thursday but will head home invigorated by the experience.
"Just getting here, you kind of are treated differently by the hotel and all the people around you, and once you get to the field and see how nicely cut they are, how the event staff treats you, it makes everyone feel special after all the hours of work we went through," Larson said. "It's definitely nice to experience what we did here and how everyone treated us."
The Fire team qualified for the national championships – which began Monday and will end Sunday at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, Maryland – after winning the Region 2 championship in Ohio in late June.
Moore and Larson are multiyear stalwarts in the Fire program while Robbins switched to the Fire for the first time this year. The team's head coach, Marc McElligott, has coached the group for four years, and planted the notion of qualifying for nationals before their high school days were through as a long-term goal.
"It means a lot for us," Larson said. "It's definitely something we've been working hard for. We do a lot of running and fitness after each practice, working hard to get to nationals, and we finally made it. All of our hard work and effort paid off, and it just means a lot to all of us."
Moore and Robbins are the only high school teammates to play for the team, with Robbins playing at forward and Moore as a center-back. Larson, a Duquesne recruit, plays left-back for the club though he's a midfielder/forward at Batavia.
The team played three matches in Maryland, tying a top-ranked team from Manhattan, New York, in its first match before absorbing a crushing loss in the final minute of its second match against a California team.
"It was upsetting," said Moore, a team captain who is considering Michigan State and the University of Indianapolis among his college options. "We had them on their [heels] the whole game. The second half we pretty much were firing shots and taking things at them and then a long ball to the opposite side of the field, a kid drove in and scored in the last 20 or 30 seconds of the game. Yeah, it [stunk]."
While the week's results weren't to their liking, the Tri-Cities trio relished the overall experience as a rousing conclusion to their club seasons. The tournament included a kickoff luncheon at which U.S. women's soccer legend Mia Hamm spoke.
"I think that we were here for one reason, and that was to try to make it to the final," Moore said. "Obviously we got caught up in that, but it was pretty exciting to be in an atmosphere like this with the top players around."
Now the boys will hope for a better return trip than the one they took to Maryland after leaving at 9 p.m. and arriving around lunch time the next day. Robbins, who is strongly considering playing collegiately at Wheaton College, said sleep was hard to come by.
"It wasn't too great," Robbins said. "It was a little bit hard to sleep on the bus with a bunch of guys there."