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When Solar Chelsea Red 02 Stricker (TX-N) head coach, Chris Stricker recaps his side’s current season, he starts with praising his team on its success in achieving its many goals that were set before the season commenced.
Win the Fall Classic League, check. Win the US Youth Soccer Southern Regional Premier League (SRPL) West to qualify for the 2017 US Youth Soccer Region III Championships, check. Qualify for the US Youth Soccer National Championships via the US Youth Soccer National League, check.
“When we were putting this team together before the season last year, I had a feeling this could be a special group,” Stricker said. “We achieved so much in the fall. So much so that we had to set new goals for the spring season.”
One of those goals was to win the 2017 North Texas Soccer State Cup, which was achieved in dominant fashion as Stricker’s squad failed to concede a single goal while scoring 30 in five games, including a 6-0 win in the finals. For some of those players, this was the fourth straight North Texas State Cup title claimed.
“We had already qualified to regionals, so it was going to be more difficult to motivate the team at State Cup,” Stricker said. “But we wanted to remain sharp and competitive, and I think we proved that by ending with a bang.”
A week after State Cup, Solar was humbled a bit in the Ken Smith Memorial Day Tournament, where they failed to get out of the group stage. It was a wake-up call that in hindsight, Stricker ultimately feels helped the team.
“For whatever reason we let our guard down and didn’t play our best. It was a good reality check for a team that failed to achieve a goal for the first time this season,” Stricker said. “After that, we regained the chip on our shoulder in training.”
At the Region III Championships, Solar followed a similar recipe to that one that yielded them a State Cup title. The North Texas State Cup champions only surrendered one goal while scoring 20 in six games, including a 6-0 victory over ID Club Division 02 (TX-S) in the finals.
“We trained so hard after State Cup leading up to regionals. We figured there would be no better way to prepare for the National Championships than to play State Cup winners and SRPL winners,” Stricker said. “But we weren’t going just for the experience. We went there to win it.”
While Solar has never competed in the National Championships, Stricker identified the Dr Pepper Dallas Cup and National League as tournaments that give his side experience playing on the national stage.
“In the Dallas Cup we played FC Golden State’s (CA-S) academy side to a 1-1 draw before losing in penalty kicks. We feel if we can play with that team, we can play with anyone in the country,” Stricker said. “One of the benefits from playing National League is getting to see all of the different styles teams from around the country utilize. Every point in National League counted, and we had to adapt to different styles and respond.”
While playing high quality teams from around the country is certainly an advantage, Stricker also emphasized that having a team that has won multiple State Cup and SRPL titles proves he has players who know how to win big games.
“You can’t replace experience. Having guys who have won four state titles is a huge advantage for us,” Stricker said. “When your best players play their best on the big stage, you know you have a special group.”
When it comes to the National Championships, having teams that have won multiple state and multiple regional titles could just mean you are part of the club, which is why Stricker has emphasized how special of an opportunity playing at Nationals is.
“This is something they are going to remember for the rest of their lives, and there is no guarantee that we will be back. Every team here is battle tested. You don’t get to the National Championships unless you can play,” Stricker said. “We have been training hard to embrace the challenge ahead of us. If we can be fearless, we have the goal scorers, the midfield, the defense and the keeper to be there in the end.”
Stricker, who has won two UIL State Championships as the coach at Coppell High School, stressed the mental toughness needed to succeed on the big stage.
“This tournament is going to be a grind. If you take off five minutes in any game, you are going to get beat. We know that and embrace that,” Stricker said. “When you are 15-years-old, you have a lot of distractions, but these boys are mentally focused and ready to go.”
With the National Championships being in Frisco, Texas, Stricker conceded that he will have less control over things like hydration and sleeping compared to when the squad was in a hotel at the Region III Championships. However, Stricker commended his team’s maturity in their ability to cancel out the distractions. With that being said, he was looking forward to seeing North Texas come out to support the local teams.
“When we were at regionals, teams from North Carolina and South Carolina had big crowds come out to support their team, and I think having a big crowd can be a huge advantage,” Stricker said. “I hope North Texas comes out in full force to support all three teams at nationals. At this point, it isn’t about Dallas Texans vs Solar vs FC Dallas. It is about North Texas.”
Stricker pointed out that being in such a competitive environment locally would prove beneficial once teams reach the regional and national level.
“I think North Texas and California have the strongest competition in the country. Every year at regionals I tell the team you are one of the favorites just by getting out of North Texas,” Stricker said. “As a result we have the confidence that we can play with anybody.”
With the National Championships right around the corner, Stricker knows that if team plays with a fearless attitude and a chip on their shoulder, they have a shot to become the second Solar and North Texas team to win a National Championship in as many years.
“I hope we can represent well. This is a once and a lifetime opportunity for these players,” Stricker said. “If we leave it all on the pitch and play our best, we can be there at the end lifting the trophy.”
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