Two years ago at Overland Park, Kan., the MVLA Lightning (CA-N) won the most coveted prize in youth soccer, the 2010 US Youth Soccer National Championship. In their first trip to the National Championships they walked away victorious, hoisting the Under-14 Girls Elmer Ehlers Cup and the Golden Glove and Golden Ball awards for most outstanding keeper and player in the field. This year, Lightning are back and looking to reclaim the National Championship.
"It was our very first time at the National Championships," recalled 2010 Golden Ball winner Gabriella Kaplan. "It was a huge honor to win the final. It was telling us, our coaches and our parents what Lightning soccer is all about. It was really exciting to see all our hard work come together."
Lightning qualified for the 2010 Regional IV Championships via the Far West Regional League. Once there, they would go undefeated scoring 17 goals and allowing only two through all stages of play. The Region IV Championship final victory would be the team’s first, and sent them to the 2010 National Championships.
After winning their first group stage match of the National Championships, Lightning lost their second to Sting 96 (TX-N) 1-0. This put all four teams even at three points, making the last game a must win to make it to the National Championship final. Lightning were up to the task, winning 4-0 and setting up a rematch against Sting for the title.
In the National Championship final, Sting repeated their defensive effort against Lightning, keeping them off the score sheet during regulation time. But this time around, Lightning’s defense and goalkeeper, Jacquelyn Caginia, refused to let Sting find a game winner. Scoreless through regulation and two overtime periods, the final moved to a penalty shootout. Caginia, winner of the U-14 Girls Golden Glove, saved the first Sting kick which ultimately led Lightning to a 5-3 advantage and the National crown.
"It was overwhelming," recalled Emily Montoya, MVLA Lightning coach and former WUSA professional player. "Everything went by so fast, you don’t realize what actually happened until you start to look back and see the articles and start reminiscing about it. It was unbelievable."
In 2011, Lightning again qualified for the Region IV Championships, but this time as California North State Champions. Unfortunately, Lightning were unable to recreate the success they had the prior year. After going undefeated and without conceding a goal in the group stage, Lightning would lose in the quarterfinal 3-2 to end their dreams of defending their national title.
Missing some key players, Lightning fell in the 2012 California North State Cup finals. Despite the State Cup loss, Lightning qualified to the 2012 Region IV Championship via the Far West Regional League. At the Region IV Championships, Lightning lost their first game to fellow Far West Region League competitor Beach Futbol Club (CA-S) 3-0. This loss would set up a scenario where Lightning had to win their next two games in order to make it out of the group stage. Lightning confidently rebounded to win their next two games to make it to the quarterfinals. Lightning would go unbeaten through the knock out stages, defeating Sereno 96 White North 1-0 in the finals. The victory earned Lightning a berth to their second US Youth Soccer National Championship in three years.
"As a team our players have committed to doing the extra," said Montoya. "This group deserves it. There has been a lot of reminiscing about when we won the National Championship. It takes a lot of heart and desire to make it to that level and our players look forward to it."
Most teams don’t have the chance to win one National Championship, so this opportunity is seen by the players as a chance to show everyone that Lightning can strike twice.