PHILADELPHIA - It turns out Darren Ambrose’s success as a soccer coach is not limited to being the head coach and winningest coach in the history of the University of Pennsylvania women’s program.
Ambrose -- who has coached the Quakers to 65 wins during his seven seasons at the helm -- recently coached the Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Association (EPYSA) Girls’ 1989 Olympic Development Program (ODP) team to the US Youth Soccer ODP national title. The event was held March 16 and 18 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas (a suburb of Dallas) and crowned champions in the divisions of 1991 boys and girls and 1989 boys and girls.
According to US Youth Soccer, the ODP program is used “to identify players of the highest caliber on a continuing and consistent basis, which will lead to increased success for the U.S. National Teams in the international arena. The program is used to identify a pool of players in each age group from which a National Team will be selected for international competition; to provide high-level training to benefit and enhance the development of players at all levels; and, through the use of carefully selected and licensed coaches, develop a mechanism for the exchange of ideas and curriculum to improve all levels of coaching.”
“This process started 18 months ago when we picked the team, and it has been fun to see it come to this end,” said Ambrose of the championship. “Winning the regional event last year -- especially beating New York and New Jersey en route -- was a big thrill for everyone, as in previous years the age group had fallen one game short.
“What was so wonderful about this group is that, as good as they were individually, it was always about the team,” he continued. “Players embraced the roles they were given and performed when needed. It was never about one individual player.”
The EPYSA team, representing Region I, defeated Region II champion Michigan in the semifinal round, 2-0, and then took the national title with a 1-0 overtime win against Region IV champion California South in the championship match.
“Our semifinal game was a bit of a confidence booster, because even though we won 2-0 against a physical team, the girls didn’t feel they had played really well,” said Ambrose. “They felt they were capable of more, and going into a final that’s always a nice feeling.”
Following the championship match, Ambrose said, “on paper we were probably the underdog against a very tough and skillful Cal South team. The game turned into a defensive battle, and neither team created too many chances. In fact, we did not give up a goal in any of the seven games we played on the way to winning it all -- that is a great compliment to not only our goalkeeper, but the team defending in general.
“When we scored in OT to win, it was an awesome feeling. I was so happy for the girls, because many of them had said more than 18 months ago that they really wanted to win it. To see that happen was fantastic. I had so much fun with them.”
EPYSA also swept the individual awards at the championship, as Caroline Williams won the Golden Glove (outstanding goalkeeper) and Lauren Alwine the Golden Boot (top player). The team also featured Kaitlin Campbell, who will continue to be coached by Ambrose when she enrolls at Penn this fall to play for the Quakers.
Ambrose’s squad had advanced to the ODP National Championships by virtue of winning Region I -- which covers ODP teams for every state association from Maine to Virginia -- last summer. The 1989 championship designation comes from the fact that the oldest players involved were born in 1989; most of the EPYSA team members are currently seniors in high school.
Click here for more information about the US Youth Soccer ODP National Championships.