NATIONAL STAGE: Members of the Princeton FC Barcelona 2006 squad show off the trophy and medals they earned for winning the boys’ 16U final in the US Youth Soccer (USYS) 2022 National Presidents Cup tournament. PFC Barcelona defeated Chicago KICS FC 2006 City MWC 2-1 in the national final last Sunday in Greensboro, NC
By Bill Alden
As the Princeton FC Barcelona 2006 faced Chicago KICS FC 2006 City MWC last Thursday to open play in the boys’ 16U bracket in the US Youth Soccer (USYS) National Presidents Cup tournament in Greensboro, NC, it got off to a shaky start.
PFC Barcelona trailed 1-0 at halftime and some doubts started to creep in.
“We didn’t really know how it would go at the start, there were a lot of nerves,” said PFC Barcelona center back Nick Matese, a rising Princeton High junior. “It was a stage none of us had been on before. The coaches always say that the first game of the tournament is the most important because if you lose, you are basically out so you have to get a result. We went down in the first half so it was definitely worrying and there were thoughts, ‘Are we really up to this?'”
PFC Barcelona proved to be up to the challenge, pulling out a 1-1 draw.
“We knew we had to fight back to get the result,” said PFC midfielder Felipe Matar Grandi, also a rising PHS junior. “We got a tie, we got the job done. We learned a lot about them, it was a tough game.”
Getting the job done in the rest of Bracket A action, PFC Barcelona topped Tuzos Garfio 06 (Ariz.) 2-0 and then edged Bayern Munich 2006 Boys White (Texas) 1-0. As a result, it finished tied for first in the bracket with Chicago KICS, setting up a rematch between the foes in the national final last Sunday at the Bryan Park-Truist Soccer Complex.
Matar Grandi and his teammates were primed for the second round with the Chicago side.
“I think overall we just learned to stay focused,” said Matar Grandi. “We were focused the whole time. We didn’t want to let them score on any set piece. We had to make no mistakes.”
The squad utilized some highlight footage to help build confidence heading into the rematch.
“We knew how they played, we knew we could beat them,” said Matese. “People were making videos of the season. I made a video of the best goals. It was more than 10 games that it took us to get here. Everyone was really energized.”
PFC went on to edge Chicago 2-1 with Matese providing two goals to go along with energetic play on the back line.
Heading into the final, Matese was ready to step up. “That whole day leading up to it, it was like this is your moment,” recalled Matese. “You have one chance to help yourself, this team, and everyone else you are representing here.”
Matese’s first tally came on a free kick late in the first half as PFC Barcelona took a 1-0 lead.
“You never really know before you kick it,” said Matese, recalling the goal. “I got the chance and took it.”
In the second half, Matese combined with Matar Grandi to give PFC a 2-0 lead.
“Felipe crossed it over; this whole season we have tried some improvised free kicks,” said Matese. “It is all situational but we have a really good connection. They were just a little sleepy on their marking. I was able to get free and he just passed it quickly to me instead of taking a shot. I was able to tap it in.”
But Chicago responded with a goal to make it a one-goal contest, setting up a nervous final 15 minutes.
“We knew we couldn’t make any mistakes, they got pretty close but we kept the result and got the win,” said Matar Grandi. “It was tough, we knew how much we wanted it. We played really hard to the last second.”
Matese concentrated on keeping order on the back line. “We made a few mistakes that led to that goal and I was just trying to get everyone to calm down and stay composed,” said Matese, crediting fellow defenders Izayah Huynh, Connor Hewitt, Chris Lee, and Kyle Ingersoll with stepping up to hold off Chicago.
“We realized we were 15 minutes away from winning this whole thing, I was just saying we have to play our game and we can do this. It was definitely nerve-wracking, they got some chances.”
In the wake of the win, Matar Grandi is still coming to terms with the team’s achievement.
“It was amazing, I get goosebumps just thinking about it,” said Matar Grandi. “It still doesn’t get in my head that we are national champions. It is insane.”
For Matese, the moment of triumph left an indelible memory.
“A lot of people were hugging each other,” recalled Matese. “I just lied down on the field and had tears of joy. It was a very powerful emotional moment. It is something you actually dream about, it is beyond words.”
Reflecting on the team’s success, Matese said it started with rigorous training sessions.
“I think the competitiveness in practice is key,” said Matese. “We are always competing with each other. There is some good-natured trash talking. Our coach Milen [Nikolov] shows us tough love and really pushes us but we know how much he cares.”
Nikolov is proud of how the PFC Barcelona players have grown into national champions.
“It has been 15 years since PFC was established and we already have two national champions,” said Nikolov. “What really matters for us coaches and what our Director of Programs Stoyan Pumpalov always insists on is to develop players. In this PFC Barcelona team there are eight Princeton High players and six players from Montgomery High and we’ve been working with them for many years. Some of those kids have been in the club since they were 5 years old. That’s what we are all about.”
In the view of Matese, it took all of those players to win a national title.
“The whole run was a group effort,” said Matese. “We had 10 different people contribute goals.”
Matar Grandi, for his part, won’t soon forget the PFC Barcelona group.
“This has been an amazing season and I am proud of everyone,” said Matar Grandi. “I am really glad we pulled it off.”