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Second Chance: Express team earns invitation to US Youth Soccer Midwest RegionalS

By Ted Schultz, The Republic, June 20, 2023

After a loss in the State Cup final, Ty Smith and his Columbus Express Soccer Club 2005 Boys Orange team thought their season was over.

But three days after that defeat, Smith received a call. The Express were being invited as an at-large team to the US Youth Soccer Midwest Regional.

“At first, it was sad right after we had lost,” recent Columbus North graduate Flynn Keele said. “I’ll be leaving after this year, so leaving this group that I’ve been with for a really long time is going to be sad. When we heard about getting the chance to play, it’s just another chance to get to play with these guys that I’ve grown up with, and I’m super excited.”

The regional begins Friday and continues through Wednesday in the St. Louis suburb of Creve Couer, Missouri. The Express play Sporting Nebraska on Friday, KC Fusion on Saturday and Elmbrook United from Wisconsin on Sunday, all at 4 p.m. CST (5 p.m. EST).

“It was really sad knowing that our season had come to an end,” said Cardoso, who will be a senior at North. “The last 10 minutes, we were trying to give it our all, and it was just a feeling that I’m never going to be playing with the seniors that are leaving. Then, we got the announcement that we had a chance to go to regional, so it was a good feeling that we were going to be playing all together again.”

“I was happy,” added Aidan Whitley, who also will be a senior at North. “I didn’t want my season to end. A lot of these guys are graduating, and I’m never going to get to play with them again. I’ve gone through 10 years of my life with them, and I’m just happy that we get one more shot.”

The Express finished fourth in the top division of the US Youth Soccer Great Lakes Conference this spring. The top three teams all received automatic bids by winning their State Cups, so the Express were the next team in line.

Then in the State Cup the first weekend in June, the Express trailed their semifinal game 2-0 with three minutes remaining before goals from Misaki Takemoto and Cardoso sent it to overtime, and a free kick from Whitley gave them a 3-2 victory.

“That probably was a big helper in us securing our bid because we were fresh off of playing three days before they called us,” Smith said.

Still, Smith was a little surprised when he received the call informing him of the regional berth.

“I told the boys after we played in the State Cup final, I was really upset because that’s a group that I’ve had some of those kids since they were 12 years old, and that’s the first group that I started coaching when I moved over to the club, so I had a pretty emotional goodbye with them and thought that they were off to take on their senior year and take on college soccer for some of them,” Smith said. “It’s a day that I had been dreading for awhile, that this Express team would be done. So when they called us, I was still down in the dumps and thought, ‘Well, we’ll rally the troops back up. We’ll give it one more shot and hopefully have a better result than (the State Cup final). I thought the Express careers of some of those kids was over, so this was an awesome surprise to get.”

For most of the season, the Express carried 16 or 17 players, about half of which came from North’s Class 3A state runner-up team from last fall, including All-Region midfielder Anthony Johnson. The team also features two players from Columbus East — Justin Silva and Gui Silva Coelho — as well as players from Seymour, Franklin, Franklin Central and Roncalli.

Heading into the regional, the Express have added a few players, including former North and current Cathedral student Ian Jackson, who plays of the Indiana Fire Academy team; along with North’s Marco Figueroa and Franklin’s Adam Ott from the Alliance 2006 squad and North’s Leo Iorio and Konnor Gribbins from the Express 2007 team.

“Games are going to be a little bit more important, and injuries can happen and fatigue, so we’re going to carry a little heavier roster,” Smith said.

Ott backs up recent North graduate and Indiana Tech recruit Oscar Ballinas in goal. The team has featured balanced goal scoring from several players.

“That’s been a strength of the group,” Smith said. “We’ve had timely goals come from different people. I don’t think we have a double-digit scorer, but we have six or seven guys that have four or five goals.”

An Express U13 girls team made US Youth Soccer Regional in 2015, and the Express 2008 Boys Orange Team qualified for the Presidents Cup national championships last summer. But Smith believes this is the first Express boys team in at least 35 years to qualify for the US Youth Soccer Regional.