U-12 Patriot's Kyler Harden drives downfield during a soccer game last weekend.
The Georgia Youth Soccer Association select soccer program kicked off its fall schedule for the 2002-2003 season this past weekend with several games at sites all across the state.
Locally, the Columbia County Patriots soccer program began its seventh year with many teams playing their openers at home at Patriots Park on Columbia Road and others opening away.
The Patriots expanded their program with five new teams this year: one under-11 girls, two under-11 boys, one under-12 boys and one under-13 girls. The Columbia Patriots now field 13 teams, four girls squads (under-11, under-13, under-15 and under-19), and nine boys teams (two at under-11, and one each at under-12, under-13, under-14, under-15, under-16, under-17 and under-19.
"The new teams are off to a good start despite the fact that it normally takes a season or two for the players to get used to the highly competitive level of play and to bond together as a team," said Phil Sines, coach and vice-president of the Columbia County Patriots Soccer League. "Soccer is enjoying tremendous popularity and growth in Columbia County."
The Patriots teams are part of the Columbia County Recreational Department sports programs, said Sines.
"The Patriots teams are highly competitive," he said. "Tryouts are conducted each spring in accordance with GYSA rules, usually mid-June, with the soccer season beginning in September and running through the summer of the following year."
Glenn Atkinson, the Patriots' president, said, "We are all very excited about the upcoming season. We're especially proud of our five new teams ... the players and families that have taken on the commitment to play select soccer, and the coaches and managers that have stepped forward to volunteer to take on the responsibility for leading these teams."
Dave Gallagher, coach of the U-12 Patriots soccer team, talks to his team before the game.
He said Patriots soccer teams are expected to represent the Columbia County Recreation Department around the state in league play and in USYA-sanctioned tournaments throughout the Southeast.
"Donny Rodgers, our new director of coaching, and his strong cadre of well-qualified trainers have helped tremendously in getting our teams ready to play," he said.
There about 200 participants this year, an increase over previous seasons, said Mike Daniel, a coach and officer with the Patriots Soccer League.
"All of our kids enjoy the teaching of sportsmanship and teamwork from our group of talented and devoted coaches," he said. "Several of our teams participate in different pre-season tournaments that are played throughout Georgia and South Carolina. The ultimate goal for each of our teams is to reach the State Cup in their respected league."
From there, the winners of the Georgia State Cup advance to represent the state in Region 3, which is the Southeast Regional Tournament. Then, the winners of that tournament advance to the nationals, Daniel said.
"Last year, we had two players to receive soccer scholarships to play at colleges this year," he said. "Keith Borgner is a freshman goalie at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Jonathan Wilson is a midfielder at Covenant College at Lookout Mountain, Ga."
The Patriots soccer teams play other squads from many areas of Georgia that include Atlanta, Columbus, Macon, Savannah, Statesboro and Athens.
"Compared to the Atlanta teams that are on our schedule, we are a very young club, but we have held our own," Daniel said.
Because of a scheduling conflict, the under-11 Patriots United actually played their first game this past Thursday night, beating the Augusta Arsenal 1-0 in a nail-biter under the lights at Patriots Park.
In opening play Saturday at Patriots Park, the under-17 boys defeated the Alpharetta Ambush 3-1, the under-16 boys defeated the TYSA Triumph Green 6-1, the under-14 boys lost to the Rome Arsenal 4-2, the under-12 boys defeated the Georgia Futbol Club 2-0, and the under-11 Boys Blue lost to the Athens Express.
Also this past Saturday, the under-13 girls lost to the RYSA Sporting FC 90 Silver 2-0, and the under-15 Girls defeated the Stone Mountain Spirit Red 3-1.
Several Patriots teams played their openers on the road. The under-11 boys Patriots United defeated the Augusta Arsenal Green 2-1 at Augusta Soccer Park, and the under-13 boys defeated the GSA Phoenix Black 3-1 in Lilburn, Ga. The under-11 girls traveled to Newnan, Ga., to take on the Coweta Cannons, but no result was available at presstime.
The Patriots will play games at Patriots Park every weekend now through the middle of November. The public is invited to come out and cheer for their home teams.
"Our Patriots Soccer League is another flagship program for Columbia County that is getting a lot of respect throughout the state of Georgia," said Daniel.
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