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Area boys soccer shines through World Cup disappointment

Mark Hazelwood • Oct 24, 2017 at 4:00 AM

When Petie Adamos realized the subject — his mood following a win shifted.

The Norwalk senior had just scored a goal in his team’s 2-0 Division II sectional championship win over Mansfield Senior on Oct. 16.

But when asked about one of the worst losses in the history of United States Men’s Soccer, Adamos like countless others in the soccer community couldn’t hide his dismay.

“I was very disappointed, because usually the only reason I get into watching the World Cup is to support the U.S. men’s team,” Adamos said.

On Oct. 10, the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986. The stunning result, a 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago, has produced an endless amount of harsh and disappointed reactions by hardcore and casual soccer fans alike.

Then last week, the ownership group of the Columbus Crew, a past champion and finalist of Major League Soccer, announced its intention to relocate the franchise to Texas without a new stadium in downtown Columbus.

That would potentially eliminate just a 98-mile drive from the Norwalk area to watch professional soccer matches — though FC Cincinnati is thriving another 110 miles to the Southwest.

But will any of the doom and gloom on a national or even regional scale have any fallout on a local level? The consensus says not likely.

In fact, one could argue with the exception of deep tournament runs — area boys soccer has never been healthier.

“Locally, it seems to be getting bigger,” sixth-year Edison boys coach Kurri Lewis said. “Programs such as Huron, Norwalk and Vermilion are bringing in 40-plus kids along with us.”

A numbers game

In September, the National Federation of State High School Associations released participation numbers across all sports from the 2016-17 school year.

Boys soccer had national numbers of 450,234 participants, which was an increase of 9.3 percent over the previous five-year average.

Those numbers also translate within Huron and Erie counties.

The Huron County Youth Soccer Club fields 30 teams with 286 kids (co-ed) ages 3-14.

The Norwalk High School boys soccer program had the most kids (50) participate in 23 years grades 9-12. That allows the Truckers to field freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams for the first time since 1994.

“We had 17 kids come out in the freshman class alone,” said second-year Norwalk boys coach Jon Kijowski.

Just north of Huron County, Edison’s boys soccer team won a share of the Sandusky Bay Conference Bay division title — the first in program history. The Chargers also won a sectional title in Div. III, falling to Lexington Monday night in a district semifinal to close with an 11-5-2 record this season.

“It does wonders for the program,” Lewis said of the SBC and sectional championships. “When I took over the program, we were winning anywhere from 1-to-4 matches in a season. We’ve now gone from that to 40 players in the program and 11 wins this season.”

In Willard, the Crimson Flashes just finished their fifth year as a boys high school soccer program with 21 players on the varsity roster and a growing youth program.

Willard finished 7-7-2 this season, including a win over Oak Harbor — a regional team a year ago and one of the more consistent programs in the SBC.

Foundation in place

Kijowski knows where the 50 players started — and hopefully where it will continue.

“The HCYSC has done a fantastic job the last several years,” he said of the Norwalk youth program. “(President) Sean Steffani and the board have done an outstanding job of building that program back up. Unfortunately for us right now, it’s with the middle grades.

“Were not seeing a ton of kids coming out in the fifth, sixth and seventh grades,” he added. “But I think after that cycle, it will pick back up again. But they are doing a nice job of building the numbers up high.”

Kijowski said the goal is to get more kids playing travel soccer.

“And we’re trying to work with them out here at halftime of varsity matches,” he said. “It’s to try and let them see what it’s like to be up here, because that’s the goal, to be up here playing. We’re all trying to work together.”

While Norwalk went just 7-10-1 this season, it has been the most consistent boys soccer program in averaging 11 wins per season over two-plus decades. Norwalk also has two district championships (1997, 2013) and is among just a handful of SBC boys programs to appear in a regional match.

But Edison’s surge this season may only boost what were already expanding numbers.

“It has put even more excitement into the atmosphere, and little kids are taking notice, which leads to bigger classes playing at the high school level,” Lewis said. “We even created a middle school travel team this year that is playing tougher competition to prepare for the highs school level. The numbers are up.”

National disappointment

The result two weeks ago is certainly a setback for U.S. soccer that will be felt for years.

“We place the blame on a lot of people,” Lewis said. “But at the end of the day, the type of players we are bringing into the national team camp just isn’t working.”

Kijowski and the Truckers were on a long bus ride back from a tough loss at Lexington when he checked his phone and saw the unbelievable loss.

“I just put my head down, because you instantly know it’s a big step back for soccer on a national level,” he said. “I just hope that even though we’re not playing in it, the interest level stays where it’s at now or higher.”

The former Norwalk player turned head coach believes any fallout from the loss will be in the bigger cities.

“It’s those borderline kids in big markets that you’re trying to convince,” Kijowski said. “I don’t think it will have a huge impact around here. But with them not playing for four years — this is the conversation we’ll be having every year until 2021.”

Meanwhile, Lewis notes the access to global soccer online and television coverage of the English Premier League will help counter the U.S. flop tremendously.

“The U.S. loss will see a downfall, but the demand to see European giants play I think far outweighs watching the Crew," he said.

“If they leave Columbus it could hurt that area, but I think if FC Cincinnati joins the MLS it will fill the void should the Crew leave,” Lewis added.

As a player, Adamos said the U.S. loss only hammers home a point he’s learned in athletics over the years.

“It just shows you truly can’t underestimate anyone,” he said. “Every country is capable of a win. Every time you step onto the field, you have to play with heart and trust your teammates.”

Adamos also agreed the loss will hurt trying to attract attention to soccer in bigger U.S. cities — but not around here.

“You will play because you want to play,” he said. “That’s the nice part of soccer in small towns like ours.”

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