Gerlach leads Northern Steel U-14 girls soccer to national title
Eagle Staff Writer
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August 9, 2017

BUTLER TWP — So much for needing time to meld as a team.

Northern Steel’s U-14 girls soccer team — a combination of three club teams from a year ago and sporting players from eight school districts — rolled to the USA Club Soccer National Cup championship recently in Carmel, Indiana.

Based in Butler, Northern Steel’s U-14s finished 3-0-2 in the national tourney, permitting only three total goals. Its first two games ended in 0-0 and 1-1 ties.

Wins of 3-0 and 4-0 followed, putting Northern Steel into the championship game against a Minnesota team that fought it to the 1-1 tie. Northern Steel prevailed 3-2 in overtime to claim the crown.

“It was a very pleasant surprise, seeing how quickly this team jelled together,” coach Blair Gerlach admitted. “The season they put together, for having not played with each other before, was incredible.”

Age eligibility changed in club soccer this year, putting all players born in the same year — 2003, in this case — in the same category for the first time.

Northern Steel plays in the Great Lakes Alliance (GLA), which is affiliated with the National Premier League. The winner of the GLA earned an automatic bid to the national tournament.

The U-14 squad won the GLA with a 7-0 record, allowing only four total goals in those games. The team also won a tournament in Virginia and two in Maryland.

“Team defense is something we always stress in this program and it was the strength of our team,” Gerlach said. “Our goalkeeper (Andrea Bean of Mars) had never played the position before this year.

“She is a tall, athletic girl who took the time to learn the position on the side. She came through for us, as did all the girls.”

The roster included Alison Altman, Stephanie Adkisson, Gabby Boden, Vanessa Drohan, Tehya Dave, Tori Michalski, Bean, Erin Rodgers, Isabella Cinalli, Kara Rocco, Sam and Alex King, Natalie Brands, Amanda Malobicky, Eleana Carlson, Ava Lamory, Gabby Kutchma and Brianne Torchia.

School districts represented were Butler, Mars, Knoch, Seneca Valley, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, Pine-Richland, North Allegheny and Hampton. Most of these players will be entering their freshman years in high school.

“We won’t get started again until November because the majority of these kids will be playing high school soccer,” Gerlach said. “But they will be together again.

“This is a dedicated group. They train all year round and their hard work paid off.”

Gerlach is head girls soccer coach at Mars High School. Butler girls soccer coach Steve Perri and Mars Junior High coach Joe Haefner — who had been Gerlach’s assistant — served as assistant coaches for the U-14 team.

“This season culminated with this title in late July and most club soccer teams are done by Memorial Day,” Perri said. “These girls kept coming to practice two or three times a week for another two months — and those practices got harder.

“Forget about going on vacation. We practiced Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays ... They just kept going.”

Perri added that the girls knew they were representing their schools, Western Pa., their league “and they took a lot of pride in that.”

Gerlach led the Northern Steel U-14 team to a national title four years ago in Colorado.

This year, Northern Steel also took its U-13, U-15 and U-18 teams to nationals. All four teams combined to post an 8-2-4 record.

“We had tremendous representation there,” Gerlach said. “Our U-15 team went 2-0-1, but lost out on point differential and couldn’t advance to the final. That was a shame.

“But I’m proud of our program. This was a highly successful season.”