The play to this point has been nearly perfect, and that's no surprise.
The Maryland Bays under-14 boys team from Baltimore, which outscored 10 state and East Region teams this summer 44-1, has been looking to this week since the completion of its 18-player roster last November.
Today is the start of the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships, set to run through Sunday at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, where the Bays will take on some of the country's finest teams.
Coached by Steve Nichols the past three years, the Bays will open against Alpharetta (Ga.) at 10 a.m. today. The first round, played in a round-robin format, will continue through Friday, with the Bays taking on La Jolla, (Calif.) at 10 a.m. tomorrow before meeting the Chicago Magic at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
The top two finishers will meet in Sunday's championship round at 8 a.m.
"Going through states and regionals, we've built our confidence and I think everybody believes our team should be able to do well and succeed at nationals," said Matt Beckman, a sophomore at McDonogh who scored six goals during region play as an attacking right back.
The Bays have spent most of the past three years at the top of the national rankings, but this is the first year the age division is included in the national championships.
Counting on a stingy defense led by Beckman and central defender Justin Lichtfuss, also from McDonogh, the Bays like to work the ball out of the back and play a possession game. Midfielder Mike Marchiano (McDonogh) is a team leader and key link in the middle along with Drew Yates (Archbishop Curley).
"I'm hoping we'll prove that we're the best team out there," Marchiano said. "My job is to go out there and set the mood of the game. ... Personally, I'm really nervous, but I think I'll be fine once the game starts. I think our team will do really well. I think we'll win it all."
Three other Maryland teams, all based in Bethesda, are scheduled to compete this week. Boys and girls age groups range from under-14 to under-19.
The Bethesda Alliance under-17 boys team, which will open against the Chicago Magic at 7 p.m. tonight, includes Brina Yi and Kyle McHugh from McDonogh, along with Brian Swiech (Mount Hebron) and James Agorsor (Arundel).
The Bethesda Fury under-18 girls, last year's under-17 national champion, will open against Busch (St. Louis) at 2 p.m. The Fury has a handful of St. Mary's alumnae, with Kristin Anderson, Katy Owings and Athena Gramates.
Erin Dubina (Severna Park), Julie Napolitano (Mount Hebron) and Maggie Pyzik (John Carroll) are other local standouts on the roster.
In under-14 girls play, the Bethesda Eclipse will take on the Slammers from Newport Beach (Calif.) at noon.
Sun staff writer Alex Koustenis contributed to this article.