The 2013 soccer year on a local level was one of a number of changes in many ways.
Travel soccer teams, at all levels, from our area increased tremendously. Prior to this year, the Altoona Soccer Club never had more than half a dozen travel squads. This year they nearly tripled that.
Young players competing year long and at a higher level of play has become much more abundant. This has made the high school games much more competitive as well.
At the 2013 scholastic level we saw some very interesting developments. Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic, which hadn't been extremely competitive in the Laurel Highlands Conference since it started a team, blew away the competition this year, dropping only one game during the regular season. It also sported the highest girls scorer in the nation in sophomore Alyssa McGhee.
The Bedford boys established themselves again as a state powerhouse, progressing for the second consecutive year to the state semifinals. Also, the jointure girls team from Tyrone-Bellwood-Antis after not having a coach until a week before fall practice started, went to the playoffs for the first time ever and garnered a victory in their first round. The Phillipsburg-Osceola boys transformed into a new team at playoff time to capture a second straight District 6 title.
This incredible growth in number of players and number of teams in 2013 resulted from the cumulative effort of a number of soccer enthusiasts over a long span of many years including people such as: Jim Fee, who pioneered soccer in our area and held nearly every position imaginable over nearly four decades; Tim Sussengill, who started both the Altoona and BG girls teams; Maurice Taylor, PSU Altoona coach who brought and shared the highest level of coaching to our area for the past two decades; Bruce Makin, highly active player and coach for a number of teams for nearly three decades; Judy Roberts, former AYSO commissioner who did a great deal to advance the organization; Bill James, who served area soccer as coach at many levels, AYSO commissioner, board member and referee; Rodger and Linda Shoup, who spearheaded nearly all area refereeing at every level; the entire Wassell family, who were active in every capacity in advancing play at the Hollidaysburg Soccer Association; Tony Allieniello, who really made indoor soccer work in this area, Gil and Cindy Barton, who served in every position in soccer imaginable; Mitch Swanger, who worked to maintain and improve every playing field; and Eric Haugh, current Altoona Club president who revived the club and brought it to new heights.
Many other coaches worked diligently to bring soccer in our area to a new, higher level of respectability, and it is evident in the fact that many area teams are faring quite well in their respective playing divisions.
n For avid soccer fans, it was bad news to see the draw the U.S. men's soccer team received for the 2014 World Cup. Basically, the Americans ended up in the group they feared they might. They will face Ghana, Portugal and Germany in June as they try to achieve a USA first: reaching the knockout phase of the Cup twice in a row.
The U.S. opens its seventh straight World Cup appearance with Ghana on June 16. There is rich history here as Ghana has knocked the USA out of the World Cup in 2006 and 2010. In its Group G, America gets the unenviable task of facing three-time World Cup champion Germany in its final group game.
The U.S. will log more miles than any country in order to play all of its games. Despite this, American captain Clint Dempsie believes his team has the talent to win or advance out of this tough group. American coach and former member of the 1990 German World Cup team, Jurgen Klinsman, sees the Cup as a huge exciting challenge that his team is up for. All of these games on their World Cup schedule will be a true treat for any American soccer fan to watch in June as the level of play and talent is off the charts.
n Some local coaches will be attending what is being billed as soccer's biggest party ever: the 2014 National Soccer Coaches Association of America Convention on Jan. 15-19 in Philadelphia. It will bring together coaches, players, administrators, referees and fans from all over the world. This is a blockbuster event and great for anyone serious about coaching and advancing their skills.
Tom Schmitt writes a monthly soccer column for the Mirror.