This story is used with permission from EDPSoccer.

By Michael Lewis

The Potomac Blue 08 team can tell us something about overcoming adversity.

Entering the spring season, the Boys side lost its striker with a fractured hip and its central defensive midfielder to a sprained MCL, both for two months.

Despite those injuries and challenges, Potomac went on and acquitted itself well at the USYS nationals, finished as runners-up in the Boys Under-14 division at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla. on July 24.

“We went through some adversity,” head coach Andrei Gugiu said. “We had some significant injuries that we had to overcome. And that’s, you know, that’s, you know, maybe more incredible. … When the time matters, some of the kids stepped up, and they worked extra hard to overcome that. So that was an interesting season, to say the least.”

While the Potomac players was disappointed it did not win the title, that certainly did not dampen their spirit.

“It was an incredible experience,” Gugiu said. “Having been one of the 10,000 teams [vying to reach the final] was an incredible achievement. It was great for the kids to compete against all these teams from United States and measure yourself where you are.

“That was a great responsibility for their for their young shoulders and that was great to see them carry that flag all the way to the end.”

The key to the team’s success?

Gugiu described his side as a family and Potomac squad lets the world know about it. The back of its warm-up shirts has the word family written, wrapped in the flag of Maryland.

“I have never coached a tighter group of players,” he said. “I would venture to say that some of these guys will go to their own weddings. That’s how tight the group is. We always work extra hard.”

Potomac is a disciplined side, especially off the field. Gugiu has put together a specific meal plan. The players do morning walks together every day when they’re on the road.

“We eat the right stuff,” he said. “We work together. We watch film together. For us, it wasn’t a vacation. For example, we got to the National League P.R.O for the group stages. We went there as business. I treat them as family. I treat them as professional players. They were given the professional player treatment minus the pay, but I guess the pay was making to the nationals.”

Potomac clinched a spot in the nationals as it finished 4-2-1 in the USYS National League P.R.O. In the USYS National League South Atlantic Conference Premier I Division, the squad took first in the fall season with 5-2-0 mark before finishing third in the spring at 5-4-0.

Then came the nationals.

Potomac went 1-0-2 in the group stage, enjoying 2-0 halftime leads in each match, to earn a berth in the final four.

“The team was very focused,” Gugiu said. “We showed up every day. We knew what the jobs were. They did their job from minute one. … Every single day we didn’t get carried away. There weren’t celebration parties, and it was just there was one game at a time. When the game was done, we prepared for the next one.”

In the semifinals, the EDP squad recorded a 2-0 win.

“It was an 11 o’clock game. It was hot and humid,” Gugiu said. “It was a tough game physically. We did play a team that there was good technically. Our game plan was to always be fast on our actions be pressuring them very high or fast and be able to score right away, so you can change the momentum of the game.”

The Maryland side did not fare as well in the championship game as Toca FC 2008 (Kansas) registered a 1-0 win. Brendan Hunn slotted home Cesar Franco Tarin’s low cross in the third minute.

Toca managed to hold off Potomac with Kael Taylor making several saves for the winning side.

“I felt that we were the better team throughout the entire game,” Gugiu said. “I felt that we were a better technical team. We came to play. we played our game. We like to move the ball fast and possess, trying to penetrate the spaces. They were a team that were very big, very physical. They were very direct. They played long balls into the box and ran off of them.

“We were very nervous at the beginning. We gave a gift the goal. [That] was inexplicable mistake from our from our backline and that was the literally only mistake they made the entire game. We paid the price for it.

“In the second half we had majority of the possession. We had chances on goal, but the other team protected their advantage. They played with five, seven defenders. It was very, very hard for us to find that equalizer. Sometimes playing a better style of soccer doesn’t mean you’re going to win but congrats to them. They did what they needed to do.”

Gugiu wouldn’t single out any one player, although it was difficult not to notice Jan Otero, who was the Golden Ball winner with eight goals and was the lone Potomac player named to the Best XI, even though the team reached the final.

“There was a lot more players, the goalkeeper, everyone that backline that, kind of held everything together,” he said.

None of the Potomac players won’t have much time to rest. The high school season is right around the corner. Many will be freshmen and vying for starting spots.

“I would probably say 30 percent of them will be starters in varsity, which is also a big, big thing for them because they’re very young and playing varsity for first team high school is a big accomplishment,” Gugiu said.

Sometime around the end of September, Gugiu said that he planned to start getting the team together for another run to the nationals.

Though Potomac fell short of winning the national championship by a goal, Gugiu relished the challenge for 2023.

“We as a team, as a club, we punch above our weight,” he said. “We never have tons of resources in terms of unlimited number of players that we can choose from. It’s always the challenge of a small business or small club.

“Oddly enough, we always play our best games when we had teams that challenge us and pushed us to the end. We always seem to struggle against lesser opponents. But we always have incredible games and success when we do have to compete. We know the teams are coming to challenge us because the target on our back.

“I don’t feel the future that isn’t going to be any different. I think they’re used to the pressure. I think they will do better. This was great for them in terms of getting the taste of what success was at the highest-level means. This is going to fuel them to increase the level and be even better than what they were this year.”

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