CUMBERLAND — A lack of a strong feeder system can hinder development of athletes, and that is something that has plagued the girls soccer program at Brewer High School over the years.
But there’s a sign the sport could be on the upswing in the future as community members have started a youth soccer club, the Brewer Soccer Club, one of the first to be formed for soccer in the city.
Six Brewer Soccer Club teams, a U10 and U11 girls team and a pair of U11 and U13 boys squads were among 179 teams from throughout the state who participated in the Just for Fun Labor Day Weekend tournament at Twin Brook Recreation Center and Greely High School in Cumberland over the weekend.
Teams are allotted four games, which last 30 minutes, for the youth soccer tourney.
“We like it because we play in the Northern Maine area, we like being able to come down and play lots of different teams with experience,” said Angela Lord, coach of Brewer’s U11 girls team.
The tournament, which took place Saturday and into Sunday, was put on by the Cumberland Soccer Club.
The Brewer U11 squad was competitive with more experienced teams from the southern part of the state, which can only help if the girls keep playing competitive soccer prior to reaching the high school level.
“Moving forward to high school, I think it can only benefit them that they’ve had a chance to play quality teams,” said Lord, who is also a BSC board member and was one of the driving forces in getting the program going.
“They are having fun, they like to giggle,” she said of her hard-working, enthusiastic players. “And they’re still experimenting with different positions, so everybody’s learning some new things today. I think it’s going pretty well.”
Now that Brewer has its own soccer club, its young athletes won’t have to travel to Bangor or Hampden to try out for squads in those communities.
At the weekend tourney in Cumberland, Hampden featured one of the top-notch boys squads in the state in its U13 Bronco Soccer Club team, coached by M.J. Ball.
The same core of kids has won state championships the last two years at the U11 and U12 levels, and attending friendly tournaments such as Just For Fun has been a staple for Ball’s teams.
“We’ve been down here at least the last three years,” he said. “At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter, win, lose, or draw, it’s just to play, just for fun.”
But Hampden, which features a skilled, athletic team, showed how competitive it is Saturday by reeling off four victories in four matches against Cumberland, PAYSA (Portland Area Youth Soccer Association), Falmouth and Capital Area of Augusta.
“Our boys have not lost in the state in the last two years,” Ball said.
Ball’s players were certainly having a good time, which is the number one priority at this tournament.
“You get to know a lot of teams you play,” said Hampden player Drew Gilmore.
And, the Hampden players also adapted to playing on a full-size field and 11 vs. 11, as opposed to 8 vs. 8 in the U12 ranks and below.
“It’s almost like a preseason tournament, you get a good look at your team to see what you need to work on throughout the year,” Ball said.
But Ball also knows it’s difficult to gauge a team’s progress, especially physically, after playing for only 30 minutes.
“It’s hard to tell because technically you only get about 25 minutes when the clock starts,” he said.
Bangor U11 boys coach Jeff Courtney’s team was a tad shorthanded as some of his players had Labor Day weekend family commitments, but that didn’t stop them from winning two games and tying two others.
“We tied Yarmouth and we tied Cape Elizabeth, which are usually strong teams,” said Courtney, who fielded just nine players. “It bodes well for our season.”
Bangor’s victories were over Capital Area and the Patriots from Gray-New Gloucester.
Even though the remains of Hurricane Earl blasted up the Maine coast Friday night and into Saturday morning, the tournament went off without a hitch, as bright blue skies and a refreshing breeze greeted the thousands of players and spectators.
“They contacted us yesterday and they said that the way the weather was tracking, it was going to be out of here on time,” Courtney said.
Many of the Bangor-area coaches were impressed with the shape of the fields, as many pitches in Eastern Maine have suffered from a lack of rain throughout the summer.
“The fields are beautiful, it’s a nice setup, parents can easily access everything,” said Lord.
In its second game Saturday, the Brewer players fought hard against a team from Saco, but even though they were on the short end of a 1-0 score, the opportunity to play competitive soccer at a young age was a big advantage.
“We have some new girls that haven’t had that experience playing,” said Lord.
The building blocks are being put in place for a solid future in the game of soccer in Brewer that other communities have experienced such as Bangor and Hampden.
“We’re hoping [this will] help our programs in the high school later,” Lord said.
Communities with teams in the tourney included: Augusta, Bangor, Bonny Eagle of Standish, Brewer, Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gorham, Maranacook of Readfield, Portland, Saco, Scarborough, Windham and Yarmouth.