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Last weekend was a special one for a renowned soccer club based out of Davis County, and a pair of Cache County girls were a big reason why.

Hyde Park’s Chloe Sadler and Logan’s Mia Lopez helped La Roca FC’s 05 girls team reign supreme in the U16 division at the US Youth Soccer National Championships, which were contested from July 20-25 in Florida. This was the first time any La Roca side has won this tournament and only the fourth team ever from Utah.

In addition to La Roca, two other teams from the Beehive State captured national titles last weekend — a 18U girls side (Impact) and a 13U boys side (Avalanche). The first ever Utah team to accomplish this feat was the U19 Celtic girls in 2019.

“I’m an A licensed coach and I’ve been coaching for 17, 18 years and, as a club, have been waiting for this for 16 years,” said La Roca 05 head coach Pancho Ovalle, who is also the club’s director of coaching. “And I’ve lost a couple of finals in overtime at nationals, so I was there, I was there when you lose that game, and it hurts, so I think this thing was unbelievable. And finally I can tell my grandkids that I won nationals, so you can image how happy we are as a club and how happy I am myself for these girls. This group of girls is fantastic. They’re humble girls and they work super hard ... and it was just unbelievable. It’s a dream.”

La Roca went 4-0-1 at USYS nationals and outscored the opposition by a 12-2 margin. La Roca’s lone draw came against Cincinnati United by a 2-2 scoreline in pool play. The team won its other two pool play games over Philadelphia FC, 1-0, and the Louisiana Fire, 4-0.

The draw against Cincinnati was enough for La Roca to win its pool, giving the club a matchup against pool B runner-up Lobos Rush Premier (Tennessee) in the semifinals. La Roca rolled to a 3-0 victory and awaited a rematch against Philadelphia FC in the finals, where it prevailed, 2-0.

One of the remarkable things about La Roca’s magical run it is utilized the talents of three much younger players, and two of them were Lopez and Sadler. Sadler is only 12 years old, while Lopez just turned 14.

Ovalle needed some more depth heading into regionals and nationals, and he turned to Sadler and Lopez. Ovalle coaches Lopez on a U14 side and Sadler at the U13 level. Not only did both athletes provide much-needed depth, they excelled as starters.

Case in point: Both players scored twice at the Far West Regional Championships, which took place from June 21-27 in Boise, Idaho, plus they teamed up for half a dozen assists at both tournaments. Additionally, Sadler found the back of the net against the Louisiana Fire at nationals.

“They’re super hard workers,” Ovalle said of Lopez and Sadler. “... They’re not going to let you down. They’re going to fight until the last minute, both of them. Both are born with that capacity and I love it.”

Ovalle coached Lopez’s older sister, Whitney, who was a starting midfielder at Utah State University this past spring as a true freshman. Another Lopez sister, former University of Utah player Demi, was also a difference maker during her time at La Roca. Simply put, Ovalle figured he had a potentially special player in Mia Lopez, and she has arguably exceeded his expectations.

The daughter of Ann and Erik Lopez competes at both the attacking midfielder and center forward positions for La Roca.

“Mia, I can call her a killer,” Ovalle said. “Mia is born with a different capacity as a finisher. She’s a natural finisher. Anywhere she receives the ball, Mia’s looking for the goal, (which is) different than other forwards, different than other attacking mids. Mia can make moves fast and take a shot with either leg. I’ve never seen that in my life. I’m talking about that at an (elite) level. I’m not talking about parents who are like, ‘Oh, my girl can kick the ball with both feet.’ No, bull crap. I’m sorry, that’s (not elite). Mia is for real. Mia can kick a PK (penalty kick) or a free kick with her right or left foot. And she can change speeds, she can beat players easily from different angles and she’s a killer.”

Likewise, Ovalle raved about Sadler, who competes at a few different positions for La Roca and garnered the praise of her head coach for her box-to-box play as a midfielder.

“Chloe has a little computer in her brain,” Ovalle said. “Chloe knows how to move on the field. She knows where everyone is all the time. That girl is a little genius. She was born with a different soccer capacity. Her knowledge at this age is unbelievable. Chloe knows what’s going on out on the field. ... And she anticipates the situations. She move earlier during the whole freaking game than the (other 21) players out there. She moves earlier than everyone. She knows where the ball’s going.”

The daughter of Kelli and Kirt Sadler is significantly shorter than a lot of players her age, let alone opponents at the U16 level. Nevertheless, she has a knack for avoiding contact, Ovalle said, plus “she uses her body really well.”

“Chloe is a really smart player,” he said. “She doesn’t expose herself bad. She’s not going to force a one-v-one against a kid who is 5-11. No, she’s going to turn and look for the combination (play), so basically she avoids the contact. She knows where to find the one-v-ones and she knows when she needs to release the ball.”

When asked about Cache Valley players in general, Ovalle was quick to point out the contributions they have made to La Roca over the years. He also started rattling off the names of several local girls he has coached.

“I love to coach Cache Valley girls,” he said. “... I don’t know what it is (about Cache Valley), but they have a lot of talent up there.”

Ovalle’s U16 team was short-handed earlier this year and wasn’t able to win a Utah State Cup championship. Fortunately for La Roca, it was able to receive a wild card bid to regionals, and that’s when Ovalle added Sadler, Lopez and another U14 player to the roster.

La Roca went 5-0 at regionals and outscored the opposition by a 15-5 margin. The side defeated opponents from New Mexico (3-1), Washington (1-0) and Los Angeles (2-1) during pool play, and was tested in the quarterfinals by a team from Nevada before winning by a 2-1 scoreline.

La Roca rolled to a 5-1 victory over the Utah Avalanche in the semifinals — one of three teams from the Beehive State in the girls U16 division at regionals — and then pulled off a stunning come-from-behind 2-1 triumph over the Boise Timbers in the finals. A La Roca player headed in a corner kick with 10 seconds remaining in regulation for the equalizer, and then the team scored eight minutes into overtime to punch its ticket to nationals.

Jason Turner is a sports reporter for The Herald Journal. He can be reached at jturner@hjnews.com or 435-792-7237.

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