By Ray Hamill — It’s been an unusual journey for Humboldt County’s most prestigious travel team.
So unusual, they don’t even play in their own county, or have a name that represents it.
These are the Mendocino Soccer Academy Eagles U19 travel team, a squad that trains in Humboldt and one that is made up entirely of Humboldt players.
It’s a group that is doing everything they can to overcome the obstacles thrown their way in order to get the best possible soccer experience for themselves.
The majority of the team has been playing together side-by-side for much of the past decade, representing Mad River United for several years.
According to assistant head coach Tim Olson, however, this past summer they were forced to find a new club to represent in order to compete, after Mad River United folded.
“We found shelter through Mendocino Soccer Academy,” Olson said.
It wasn’t the only obstacle these players have had to overcome on their journey.
As a group, they made the decision to not play high school soccer this fall in order to concentrate on competing at a higher level.
“They wanted to see how well they could do and challenge themselves,” Olson said.
The Humboldt-Del Norte League is one of the few that plays fall soccer, with the majority of schools in the North Coast Section and beyond playing a winter season instead, which would be next to impossible this far north due to weather and field conditions.
The players’ decision to forgo the high school season, however, has diluted the quality of high school competition here on the North Coast and caused some controversy.
But that hasn’t slowed the players in attempting to fulfill their ambitions.
It’s meant a lot of traveling for these players, who play all their games in and around the Bay Area, but it’s also been a good experience, with the team currently sitting in third place in their NorCal Premier League.
“Half of the team was facing their senior year, and they made the decision that they would skip the high school season to play at the highest level possible before they leave high school,” Olson said.
In order to compete in the State Cup, considered the highest level of travel team soccer in California, they had to compete as a team in the fall, forcing the players to not play local prep soccer.
“The thing I’m most impressed about these guys is their dedication to play soccer since they were U10 all the way to U19,” Olson said. “It takes a definite dedication to do that.”
The players have been busy practicing twice a week in Arcata, while traveling most weekends to play two games.
The Eagles are currently 6-2 on the season and an impressive 4-0 in league play, although two of their final four games are against top-ranked opposition.
But they have been clearly battling above their weight.
The Eagles are ranked 119th in the state, but are unbeaten in the NorCal Premier League and are currently neck-and-neck with Marin FC and Atletico Santa Rosa Porto, the 12th and 19th teams in the state, respectively.
“As our success so far points out, I feel like we’ve been doing very well,” Olson said. “We have the first and second placed teams to play still, and that’ll be a challenge, but for a group of kids living in a small population area, they’ve done very well.”
The future of the team depends on future numbers, with eight seniors all moving on after this year.
But for now, they’re focusing solely on closing out as strong as possible and making an impression in some tournaments early in 2019.
The Eagles travel to Santa Rosa for two games this weekend, including a tough matchup against Porto, and will close out league play at Richmond and Marin next week.
In the spring, they will play in the Premier Cup.