Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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Shattuck-St. Mary's is well-known for their hockey program, having hosted Sidney Crosby and Zach Parise during their younger years. This year, its soccer program made some waves, as well.
The Sabres' soccer teams play in the US Soccer Federation Development Academy, a group of 78 youth clubs from across the country that function as the highest level of youth soccer in America; S-SM and the metro-area Minnesota Thunder Academy are the only two local teams in the league.
This year, S-SM's U-17/18 team made it all the way to the national finals, where they lost an overtime heartbreaker to the New York Red Bulls youth academy, 2-1. Lesley Nchanji, the Sabres' second-leading scorer this year, gave Shattuck a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute, but Ethan Decker evened things up for NYRB twenty minutes later.
The game went to extra time, and though S-SM striker Michael Bajza forced a couple of saves in the first half of overtime, it was NYRB's Jhon Estama who got the game-winner in the second half, pouncing on a rebound in the 115th minute to score the decider.
It was the second time in the league's six seasons that the finals went to overtime; the 2008 final also ended after an extra half-hour. The Red Bulls' win gave them their second title in as many seasons, and were the #1 seed in the playoffs.
It was a successful 2012-13 season for the Fairbault prep school. After winning the U-17/18 Mid-American Division going away, Shattuck stormed through the playoffs to earn a berth in the national finals, where two wins and a draw were good enough to secure a place in the championship match. The Sabres entered their final Group 2 match, with De Anza Force, needing only a draw to win the group and play for the championship, and took a 2-1 lead into the last quarter of the match. De Anza evened the scores thanks to a SSM own goal - but the Sabres hung on for the final 15 minutes for a 2-2 draw, leading to their final matchup with NYRB.
It's worth noting that Bajza is one of two players on the S-SM roster with a listed college committment; the team's leading scorer, he is headed for North Carolina State in the fall. The other is defender Vladis Upmalis, a Latvia native who's played three times for his country's national U-17 team; Upmalis is committed to UW-Green Bay.
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