BSC Hood River Strikers are the first club team from Hood River to qualify for the National Premier League Tournament. Team members are (back row) coach Steve Carroll, Jose Ledesma, Ryan Connop, Travis Running, coach Pero Lovrin, (front, from left) Diego Rivera, Alan Garcia, Alvaro Ramirez, Wences Bolanos, Robby Running, Angel Sonato, Jorge Campos, Alejandro Robles, Jose Peralta, Ulises Juarez, Pico Sankari, Noe Magana and Reese Carrol.
The BSC Strikers U14 boys soccer team was in North Carolina last weekend, where they represented Hood River at the 2014 National Premier League Tournament. The team –– the first from this area to qualify for such a high-level club tournament –– went 0-2-1 in the first round, and although the boys fell short of advancing out of group play, their presence at the tournament, and their performance against big-city clubs from across the country, was something longtime Coach Pero Lovrin says is historic and praiseworthy.
“I did not know what to expect from this long journey,” Lovrin said. “This was our first attempt to play on the national level and needless to say I was very apprehensive. No team from Hood River to my knowledge has played at this level, and we tried for the past two months to prepare the boys by playing as many teams from the adult league from Hood River as we could. Although I could be happier with victories, I am absolutely satisfied with everything this team has accomplished.”
In order to qualify for the tournament, the team had to win the Premier League of Oregon championship last fall, which featured the most elite youth teams in the state. In North Carolina, the Strikers opened with a tough 1-0 loss against the Santa Rosa United Arsenal, a top-ten nationally ranked team, then followed with two very tough games — a 1-1 tie against the eventual group winners, the Michigan Wolverines, and a 1-1 tie against the New Jersey champions, Parsippany.
“All of the teams that played in the tournament are champions of their competitive league in their state or regions,” Lovrin explained. “There is many interesting compositions to these teams. For example, the Santa Rosa team brings together all of the best kids from the region to this tournament and the Michigan team is an academy team that was selected from nine clubs. Many teams at the tournament do not resemble the team that won the state title last fall. But, in our case, we were the same team that played in the fall, minus two very important defenders that played with us for the past four years. We were fortunate to recruit two players from Hood River to maintain our strong local flavor. Out of the 17 players that made the trip to North Carolina, 15 are from the Hood River community.”
Going in as the small-town underdogs, the Strikers lost their opening game with a first-half shot that Santa Rosa got by capitalizing on an overcommitted defense. Although the Strikers had several scoring opportunities, they were unable to close offensively and had to take the loss.
The team learned from the loss and rebounded in the second game to battle to a tie against a fast and physical Wolverines lineup. After a first-half stalemate, Michigan scored early in the second off a loose ball in the center from a corner kick. Alvaro Ramirez evened the score with a high-flying header to find the back of the net.
“It was a spectacular goal that many of us will remember for a long time,” Lovrin said. “The rest of the game was even more physical. Things were getting dangerous and the referee finally issued two yellow cards to the Wolverines. From this point we had more opportunities and control of the game, but some outstanding goalkeeping by the Michigan team saved their day.”
The Wolverines went on to finish undefeated in the pool to advance to the next round.
With jitters out of the way and confidence building, the Strikers came out firing in the third game against New Jersey. In the 15th minute, Noe Magana beat several defenders, made a cut to the middle and unleashed a brilliant left footed shot to the goalkeeper’s right corner to make it 1-0. Despite a commanding presence in the game, the Strikers were unable to finish any other goals; meanwhile, New Jersey managed one goal of its own in the second half to tie the game.
“It is very satisfying to know that our community is capable of developing teams of this caliber,” Lovrin said. “It has been a privilege and joy to work with and coach this group of young men. I am one proud coach.”
Lovrin acknowledged the help the team received from the Hood River community in getting to nationals. After qualifying for the tournament, the team asked the community for help in raising the roughly $18,000 it would need to send the kids to play across the country. In total, 60 individuals, businesses and community partners donated and the team was able to raise a considerable sum at a dinner/auction event and by selling coffee.
“Without the community’s generous support, this soccer journey would not have been possible,” Lovrin said. “It is nice to know that we don’t need nine clubs or a population of millions to create an outstanding team. On behalf of the players, let me express our gratitude: A big thank you for the amazing support from the Hood River community.”
With the fall season not long off, most of the team members will move on to the Hood River Valley High School system, where they’re sure to have an enormous and lasting impact on the already bright future the team is looking ahead to. Of the team, four will be in eighth grade and will continue with clubs for one more year.
Additionally, two team members, Alonzo Beltran and Jose Peralta, will focus their energies as members of the Portland Timbers U14/16 Development Academy.
The team’s youngest player, Robby Running, was recently qualified for the Regional Pool of the Olympic Development Program’s 2001 age group. He was selected as one of the top 26 players out of Alaska, Washington, Hawaii, Oregon, California (northern), Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Montana. Running joins Giovanni Magana and Adrian Villegas as just the third player in recent history to qualify for this level of play. Finally, the team’s goalie, Travis Running, made the Oregon State Pool for the 2000 age group and is ranked a top-five goalie in the state for his age group.