TAMPA — That didn't take long.
In just their first year of existence, Tampa Bay United's U18 girls won the most prestigious club competition in Florida, the Florida Youth Association State Cup the weekend of May 20.
"It was a lot of hard work on the girls' part," coach Jim Cote said. "They set out this goal at the beginning of the season and accomplished it."
To do so, TBU had to defeat a pair of state heavyweights in the Final Four. Tampa Bay beat defending state champs St. John's Creeks Clash 1-0 in the semis before disposing of Coral Springs' Renegades 2-1 in the final.
"Both of those programs have been known around the state for their quality," coach Adrian Bush said. "It was a big test."
The common thread in TBU's run to the state title was defense. The newly formed team, a merger of HC United and RSL Florida, surrendered just one goal in seven state cup matches, and that was in the final against the Renegades.
"They were absolutely impeccable," Bush said. "To have six shutouts (during the State Cup) is almost unheard of."
In fact, TBU gave up just 23 goals in 39 matches throughout the season and outscored opponents 100-23 during that stretch. Emily Ball (Freedom) handled the majority of minutes between the woodwork during State Cup, along with Charlotte Rothschild (Robinson) throughout the season.
"The defense was just relentless," Cote said. "But that was our season in a nutshell really."
Bush also pointed out the backline play of defenders Rebecca Oser (Bloomingdale), Shannon Estes-Larkin (Mitchell), Hannah Foster (Gulf), Elena Madrazo (Chamberlain) and Sophie Sanchez (Plant).
"They came up huge," he said.
In the final, Oser's free kick set up a goal from Colby Maffei (Tampa Prep) in a crowd of players to put TBU up 1-0. The Renegades equalized before half, but Maffei was taken down in the box during the second half, resulting in a successful Caroline Bado (Plant) penalty kick. Bado struck again later in the second off a feed from Abby Meckley (Plant) for the 3-1 final.
Bush credited the team's work ethic for the title, an especially difficult task considering most of the team was dealing with the added stresses of senior year.
"You know these girls have prom and all the things that go along with their last year of high school," Bush said. "But we always had 19 or 20 girls at training and we were working out four or five times a week."
Next up for TBU is the Region 3 Southeast Regionals in Greenville, S.C., that begin June 14.
"These girls have shown they are the best in Florida in their age group," Bush said. "They've been on a mission and we're looking forward to (regionals)."