The Napa Soccer Academy’s under-16 boys squad is returning to the Elite National Premier League National Finals July 12-13 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado.
Head coach Eric Branagan-Franco’s team qualified for the national tournament at the ENPL National Playoff June 28-July 2 at Mercyhealth Sportscore Two in Rockford, Ill., which it attended along with 52 other league champions or runners-up from top leagues across the country.
The competition drew four teams per group, 13 groups total. The top team from each group with three additional wild-card winners earned a spot in the Sweet 16. From there, an additional playoff match determined the Elite 8 that move on to the National Finals.
The NSA boys opened group play with a 5-1 statement victory over Manhattan SC. Napa took a commanding 5-0 lead before the New York squad answered.
Gerardo Perez had two goals and Justin Sotelo, Miguel Burgoa and Jorge Galvan each scored one.
The Napa boys’ second match was against the Florida Kraze and served as a wake-up call. They took a 2-0 lead into halftime after goals by Galvan and Alberto Sierra, only to see the Kraze storm back and tie the game 2-2. The draw meant NSA needed a victory over the Houston Texans FC to ensure a spot in the Sweet 16 without having to depend on anyone else’s results.
But Napa left no doubt, defeated the Houston team 3-1 to reach the playoff round. Galvan opened the scoring by rifling in a free kick, and Enrique Saenz and Sotelo rounded out the scoring.
With a trip to the National Finals as the prize, the playoff game saw NSA face FC Wisconsin, ranked No. 7 in the nation. Napa took an early lead when Sotelo found the back of the net off a blistering 25-yard, left-footed blast. FC Wisconsin tied the game only moments later, and they went into halftime tied 1-1.
The second half saw NSA take a 2-1 lead as Sierra found the back of the net, only to see FC Wisconsin answer quickly to tie the game 2-2. The teams traded scoring opportunities until, in the final moments, a Perez strike sealed the victory and punched the Napa Soccer Academy’s ticket to the National Finals.
“Coach Branagan-Franco has done an amazing job with this team,” said NSA Director of Coaching Gabe Rood. “The boys have represented not only the Napa Soccer Academy, but the city of Napa and the state of California in a positive manner.”
This is the second year in a row that the 2003 team is in the National Finals, as it looks to improve on last year’s third-place finish.
“The team did a great job of staying focused and committed to their goal of reaching the National Finals,” said Branagan-Franco. “Their unbelievable fight and resilience will need to continue in order to complete their goal of a national title.”
The team was scheduled to arrive in Colorado on Tuesday, to get acclimated to the higher elevation and field recognition, before opening play on Friday.