Johnson City pair reach National Championship

Jeff Birchfield • Jul 17, 2014 at 10:10 PM

Johnson City players Kennah Harris, Devin Fry and their Knoxville Football Club ’99 Azzurri teammates could sympathize with the Argentina men’s national soccer team on Sunday.

Earlier that day, the team more commonly called the Knoxville Crush made it to the U.S. Youth Soccer U15 President’s Cup National Championship game, only to lose 2-1 in extra time to Utah Crush Blue.

Their heartbreaking loss in Greenville, South Carolina, came only hours before Germany defeated Argentina, also in extra time 2-1 in the World Cup final.

“The fashion in which we lost the championship, so late in extra time, it was a lot more painful,” said Knoxville Football Club director of coaching Fields Brown. “But at the same time, I told the girls that four hours later in Brazil someone would be going through the same emotions they were going through. That game put things in perspective.

“I remember being on the podium and thinking, ‘I hope the World Cup final is as entertaining as this game.’ It was two good teams going back and forth, so it was cool it was the same day as the final.”

In the championship match, Knoxville Crush had its chances, taking a 1-0 lead early in the 48th minute on Carter Anderson’s goal. However, the team from Utah answered in the 68th minute and made the winning goal with six minutes left in overtime.

Although their national championship dream didn’t come true, Brown said the ’99 Azzurri easily exceeded expectations. The age group had made it to the semifinals of the Tennessee state tournament the year before.

After qualifying for the Tennessee state tournament in Murfreesboro at the last moment, they shut out every opponent in the tournament. Next, they won the Southeast Region in Alabama. They were the best of teams from 11 states including those from the soccer hotbeds of Florida, Texas and the Carolinas. They scored a 2-0 victory over the Raleigh-based Triangle Futbol Club to qualify for the national championship tournament.

“We didn’t fill our spot in the big tournament until we beat a rival the last game of the regular season,” Brown said. “After we had that game under belt, we gained some confidence. The girls just took it and ran with it. They’ve always had the talent, but I don’t know if they ever had that believe they could go on and compete. Once we had that confidence, next thing you know, you’re regional champions and are going on to nationals.”

While the squad was mainly comprised of Knoxville-area players, there were actually four players from Northeast Tennessee. Besides Harris and Fry, Greeneville’s McKenzie Ellenburg scored a goal last Friday night in a 2-1 win over the Warren (Illinois) United Blazers and her Greene Devil teammate, Jessica Sallah, added an assist.

As for the Johnson City pair, Fry scored six goals for the season, playing mainly as a midfielder and occasionally as a forward. Harris was on the opposite side of the field and played in the back as a defender. Coach Brown talked about how much each of the Science Hill rising sophomores meant to the team.

“She’s just very aggressive, very strong on the ball,” Brown said about Fry. “Her work rate is tremendous. She had a big hand in setting up our goal in the national championship game. Jess Sallah from Greeneville ended up serving in the box, but Devin made a great pass to release her. She works so hard and she’s very skilled. She gave us a lot in creating opportunities.”

It was Harris’ first year playing for the Knoxville team. Brown said she was definitely a welcome addition.

“She made huge contributions after joining us this year,” Brown said. “She started all four games last weekend and for the majority of the season. She helped a lot in our success. Between one point of the season to our regional semifinal, we didn’t give up a goal in over 600 minutes. We had a clean sheet in elite play, not giving up a goal in the state tournament and the semifinal was our fourth game in the regionals.”

Both are expected to play big roles for the Lady ’Toppers this season. They both felt the experience of the club team will help during the high school season.

Fry compared Brown, the former director of operations at the University of Tennessee, to Science Hill assistant coach Brandon Kind both for his knowledge of the game and how he works with the players.

Harris will now join Fry as a Science Hill teammate after playing at Providence Academy last season. While she’s looking forward to the new challenges of the high school season, it will take something special to top the Crush’s run this summer.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime feeling,” Harris said. “Nobody on the team had ever experienced anything like it so it was exciting for everybody.”

Fry added the club season dragged out all summer, but she wasn’t complaining. After all, how often does a person get to play for a national championship? She added the more time the team was together, the better their chemistry was.

“I don’t think anyone thought we were going to get that far,” Fry said. “When we got to the regionals, everyone was looking at each other like, ‘What just happened?’ But the farther we went, we all got closer together.”

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