When the Idaho Rush lost 2-1 to the Boise Nationals in the U-18 boys state cup championship May 22, the Rush assumed their season was over.
Three days later, coach Nathan Hamm received some exciting news.
In a random draw to determine the wild-card entries for the Far West Regional tournament, the first team pulled from the hat declined the invitation.
The Rush ended up the beneficiaries when their name was selected next.
Hamm shared the news with his team over a group text. Many of the boys were in the midst of their Boise High graduation ceremony.
“It was definitely a surprise. I was taking pictures in my cap and gown with my family and then hear we are going to regionals,” right midfielder Eric Lyon said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
The Rush have not wasted their surprise opportunity.
After a 2-0 win over Boise Nationals Liverpool on Wednesday in a rematch of the state cup title game, the Rush clinched second place in Pool B. With only three second-place teams advancing out of the five-pool division, the Rush had to wait for the final two games of the day to be played before learning their fate.
Once all 30 pool-play games were officially in the books, the Rush’s record of 2-1-0 tied Utah’s Sparta Premier and New Mexico’s Classic FC Toros for the best record among second-place teams. The remaining two second-place teams each went 1-1-1 and were automatically eliminated.
“To come out today and get the win against a good Nationals side that we had fallen to before to move on to the quarterfinals says a lot about the team’s character,” Hamm said. “This tournament has allowed the team to come out and show both Idaho and the rest of the region that they have the ability to compete with some of the best in the region.
“It’s exciting to see all of their hard work paying off.”
The Rush play Crossfire Oregon Green — the unbeaten Pool E winner that outscored opponents 7-1 — at 8 a.m. Friday on Field 10.
They’re hoping to extend their first Far West appearance as long as they can.
“It’s all about confidence,” said Rush center midfielder Sam Rucklos, who scored the second goal Wednesday on a penalty kick in the 76th minute.
“Once we come out onto the field as a team and a unit and just kind of settle down and get into our passing and doing what we have to do, I think we have the ability to beat anybody.”
Three Idaho girls teams join the Rush in Friday’s quarterfinals.
U-18 FC NOVA
The past two seasons, this group of Nova players has qualified for the ECNL national tournament, which runs around the same time as Far West.
But at the U-18 level, only the ECNL conference champions advance to nationals, and Nova didn’t qualify, thus opening the door for them to compete at Far West as a wild card.
Aside from a 4-3 loss to Utah’s Celtic FC Premier in pool play, Nova has outscored its opponents 15-4, locking up second place in Pool A and a quarterfinal match at 10 a.m. on Field 13 against New Mexico’s Rio Rapids.
“We went into the tournament pretty optimistic,” said Nova coach Brian Smith. “This is a very talented group. A lot of players are going on to play in college at all sorts of levels. They have experience playing on a national stage against very good competition.
“They definitely were not unnerved by the environment.”
Fourteen of the 17 players on Nova’s roster are 2016 graduates, and nearly all of them are committed to play at the next level.
“It’s been a good opportunity to really enjoy each other and celebrate all the good times we’ve had together,” Smith said. “We’re just going to ride this thing out as far as it’s going to take us. So far, they’re playing at a really good level. This group is super united.”
U-16 BOISE NATIONALS
The Boise Nationals Premier were the only Idaho team to win their pool, going 2-0-1.
They were hardly rewarded for their efforts.
The Nationals draw 2015 national runner-up La Roca Premier of Utah at 2 p.m. on Field 2.
“We’ve never played them, but we’ve watched them play and played teams that have played them,” Nationals coach Mark Prince said. “They’re big, they’re strong, they’re physical. It’s going to be quite a challenge for us, but it will be good. Our girls are up for it.”
La Roca ended up as a second-place team in Pool D, which also contained reigning national champion Legends FC from Southern California.
While Prince stressed his team’s defensive play, Sierra Sanchez will lead the Nationals’ offensive charge. The junior-to-be has scored four goals in the tournament and 26 this season. She commutes from Blackfoot to play for the Nationals.
“The defense has been playing outstanding, really just gritty,” Prince said. “They’ve helped us out a lot this week.”
U-13 INDIE CHICAS
The Chicas earned a spot in the quarterfinals in their first appearance at Far West, blazing a path for the fledgling club that has grown from 24 players two years ago to more than 220 this season.
After a 3-1 loss to Utah’s La Roca on Wednesday, the Chicas finished second in Pool A, successfully holding their own against a La Roca team that had beaten its first two opponents 21-1.
The Chicas resume play at 10 a.m. Friday on Field 5 against So Cal Blues Baker. The Blues won Pool D and have yet to allow a goal in the tournament.
Centennial grad named NWSL player of week
Chicago Red Stars forward Sofia Huerta, a Centennial High graduate and former FC Nova soccer player, was voted the National Women’s Soccer League player of the week. It is the third such honor of her career. On June 18, Huerta had two goals in the Red Stars’ 3-0 win over the Boston Breakers, scoring in the third and 47th minutes.