GREENFIELD — While the idea was unorthodox, the potential results weren’t difficult to project.
But even 20-year coaching veteran Matt Blackbourne couldn’t have fathomed how quickly his FC Pride U14 girls soccer club team would excel.
Built 18 months ago when several players defected from Carmel United Soccer Club over to FC Pride to form what Blackbourne calls a “super team,” history was made this month as his players reached the national championship series in Oklahoma, taking third overall.
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“The two teams used to compete against each other every year,” the coach said. “After we put them together there wasn’t a single team in the state of Indiana that was able to get within four goals of them. No Indiana team has scored against them.”
Beating up each other with the players from Carmel winning the Indiana State Cup in the 11- and 12-year-old age group, FC Pride put the future in motion with a sound 5-1 win in the state tournament as U13 competitors.
From there, the players gravitated together to become prolific once they officially merged in 2013.
Among the 18 members of Blackbourne’s FC Pride 01 Elite team, three were from Hancock County with incoming freshmen Greenfield-Central’s Lucy Brand and Mt. Vernon’s Alexi Hardie and Cleo Mills.
Their roles were vital as the group became the first Indiana representative in nearly 10 years to advance into the final round of the US Youth Soccer National Championships in Tulsa.
“Of the 19 total that have reached the national stage, I believe only two have actually played into the semifinals,” Blackbourne said. “It’s a milestone for the club. It inevitably puts you on the map from a national perspective. To go to an event like this is quite empowering for the kids. You ultimately want to get back on the field again immediately and build on it.”
After winning a second consecutive Indiana State Cup in 2014, the FC Pride U14 team moved on to the Regional II Championships in North Carolina last November, going 2-0-1 in group play with a 12-5 goal differential.
The team fell in overtime to National League Red Division runner-up, CUP Gold of Ohio, in the semifinals but advanced as National League Blue Division runner-up.
They earned the berth with a second-place finish in Las Vegas this past March.
Along the way, they gained confidence as a team and established a strong bond through the course of the 42 weeks invested on the road in high-level tournaments and in practice.
“It was a really a great experience. Once I joined the team, it was amazing,” said Brand, team captain for FC Pride 01 Elite. “Everyone on the team are such great players, and all of us together made it a great team.
“The whole team is a tight-knit group. We clicked together.”
Coming over from Greenfield Area Soccer Club, Brand spent the past three years with FC Pride and was invited to become part of the new group.
Hardie and Mills have progressed through the club since U8, but their different timelines had no barring once the team lined up to play as one.
“While Lucy has been on this team for three years now, she is no doubt kind of the character of the team, one of the strengths and is our captain,” Blackbourne said. “Hardie is the type of player a coach can utilize anywhere. She can be in the midfield, but she can also play up top and defensively as well.
“For someone like Cleo, even though she has played defense, I could envision her at forward for a high school team. She is very strong.”
Blackbourne, who has 10 State and President Championships to his credit combined, spent his time training the core group of the team since they were 7 years old.
Comprised of 10 players from FC Pride, the team trekked to Oklahoma with a 20-3-4 record.
At nationals, they were 2-1 in group play and narrowly lost 2-1 to the Dallas Kicks SC 01 of Texas in the semifinals but not before gaining respect for themselves and the state.
In the history of Indiana soccer only seven teams have made it to the finals of the US Youth Soccer National Championships and only one team has won it (2007, U19 girls CUSC Cyclones).
“No one knew what to expect. We were definitely the underdogs from our perspective and from some other teams,” Lucy’s mother Lizan Brand said. “It was really cool to see how the girls were able to come together and were able to compete against the best of the best.”
With high school ahead for Brand, Hardie and Mills, it could be surreal when teammates face off against one another as each appear destined to succeed as prep players, Blackbourne said.
But once the school season ends, it will be back to FC Pride where the U14 team returns in 2015-16 intact.
The club season typically begins in late October and runs until — hopefully — late July again.
“Inevitably to win a national championship for the this group would be a goal. With them coming a game away from being in the final game, ultimately it’s a realistic goal. But I like to keep our goals somewhat obtainable for the kids. … there’s a lot of work that goes in,” Blackbourne said.
“My goal is for them to get better. There’s no question winning a regional championship is a goal of mine. FC Pride as never won a regional championship, so when it comes to goals. That’s the most obtainable and realistic and one we will strive to achieve.”
By the Numbers
7: The number of players from Carmel United Soccer Club that joined FC Pride in 2013 to help form the U14 01 Elite “super team.”
10: The number of original FC Pride U14 players coach Matt Blackbourne kept on the newly formed state championship squad.
2: The number of consecutive years the the FC Pride U14 team has won the Indiana State Cup.
22: The wins racked up by FC Pride U14 01 Elite since competing in 2013.
20: The years coach Matt Blackbourne has coached, including time spent at the Indianapolis Soccer Academy and at FC Pride.
0: The total goals surrendered to other Indiana soccer clubs since the FC Pride U14 team formed their prolific roster.