Crossfire Premier U-17/18 coach Bernie James knew it wouldn’t take much to get his team revved up to face their bitter crosstown rivals, Seattle Sounders FC. The two teams faced each other earlier in the year with the U-17/18 Sounders edging out Crossfire 1-0 on a penalty kick in the dwindling minutes of the game. The teams occupy the No.1 and 2 slots in the Northwest Division of the Academy with the Sounders currently holding the top spot.
Yet with all of the buildup leading up to the local derby, James didn’t do anything differently to prep his players.
“I think they were fully aware of how important it is to them and to our club,” he said.
And the importance of the game, which was the final meeting for the two teams during the regular season, was evident by the level of play and intensity on the field.
James knows that same intensity is crucial to helping players in the Academy grow.
“Games like this that are tight, hard-tackling, hard-fought and intense will always help with player development,” he said. “I think if all of our games had this level of intensity our product would be better, our players would be better. The Sounders help create that obviously. They’re a great team and a great program. It’s a pleasure to play against them. Everyone on our team seemed to play on a higher level. If we could get that level of intensity for all our games, then these guys would get better, quicker than they are right now. So the game was really great for our team.”
It wasn’t just the players who were excited for the game, several hundred fans attended to cheer on their chosen team. Emerald City Supporters came to root on the Sounders, with drums and flags in hand, singing at the top of their lungs and replicating the atmosphere of a Major League Soccer game for the Seattle Sounders professional team.
“I think the players got a taste of what it would be like to be a pro in some ways,” James said. “There were people cheering and cheering against them mainly, flags being waved and drums being played and singing and it might be the closest some of them get to ever being a pro and playing in an atmosphere like that, so it was really cool. It was a positive experience for our players and for our club because the Sounders are extremely popular in our area so we’ve got our work cut out for us. That helps us for the coming years and I’m sure it will be a great rivalry for years to come.”
Crossfire Premier goalkeeper Andrew Weakly knew his team was the underdog going into the game, but once the whistle blew the Crossfire players fed off the crowd’s enthusiasm.
“Personally I really enjoy the big atmosphere,” said Weakly, the U-17/18 Academy Player of the Week. “The more people, the better, especially if they’re rooting against us. We fed off that for sure and we felt like we needed to show something. It was just the perfect atmosphere to put it all out there.”
All rivalries aside, Weakly noted the atmosphere the game created will help players on both teams as they look ahead to future soccer careers both at the college and professional level. Weakly plans to sign a National Letter of Intent with Villanova in February.
"For me personally, I know I'm going to the Big East next year and just knowing I can thrive in a high pressure atmosphere is reassuring," he said. “For anybody that's taking that next step and moving on to the college level, it was good for us to see the kind of atmosphere we can expect in the world of soccer. Those are the kind of things that remind us why we love the sport."