The Madison Futsal League's Forge Under-16 boys team bounced back from a slow start to win the U.S. Youth Futsal Midwest Regional earlier this month in St. Louis, earning the chance to play for its second straight national championship.
The Forge opened with a draw and a loss in group play on the event's opening day Jan. 14, then stormed to the regional title by outscoring opponents 27-7 in their final three matches – including a 6-3 victory over BRUSFA Indiana Elite in the final.
"The last two games ... were against unbelievably strong teams, but the (Forge) outplayed them in technical and tactical approach," Madison Futsal League founder, director and coach Ilir Lushaj wrote in an email. "I felt like we became a much better team/coach post the last two games – amazing learning."
The Forge tied Kentucky's SportsTutor FA 4-4 and lost to Indiana Elite 5-3 to start Pool A play, and needed a win in their group finale Jan. 15 to advance to the semifinals. A 15-3 rout of Missouri's JB Marine Hooligans sent them into the knockout round on goal differential over SportsTutor, and the Forge cruised past Missouri's GSE Futsal Academy 6-1 in the semifinals to claim a spot in the final.
Evan Carlson (Sauk Prairie/FC Wisconsin) and Erich Legut (Waukesha West/FC Wisconsin) scored two goals apiece for the Forge in the championship game Jan. 16 as it avenged its loss to Indiana Elite two days earlier. Colin Alba (Waukesha Catholic Memorial/FC Wisconsin) and Ben Tutewohl also scored in the final.
Lushaj confirmed that the team will play in the national championships, which are Feb. 17 to 20 in New Century, Kan. The Forge beat Texas' Team X 3-2 in the Under-14 national final last February, scoring in the final seconds to win the championship.
The Forge Under-11 girls side also advanced to the regional final, going 1-0-2 in pool play to finish second behind Real STL-Hickey Elite (2-1-0).
The Madison team beat the St. Louis side 5-3 in a tournament opener, but trailed 1-0 late in the rematch in the championship game until Sophie Kasel set up Adah Minikel-Lacocque for a dramatic equalizer with 20 seconds left in regulation.
Real STL-Hickey Elite ended up winning the regional title on penalties following the 1-1 draw. As finalists at one of the nine regionals across the country, the Forge could have played at nationals, but Lushaj said it was decided that it would be better for the young team to forego that event.
Four other Forge sides also competed in the Midwest Regional, and each posted at least one victory on the weekend.
The Under-13 boys team went 2-1-0 in Pool A and advanced to the semifinals, but lost to STL Futsal on penalties following a controversial 3-3 draw. Lushaj explained that the time wasn't properly kept in the semifinal match – a point tournament officials acknowledged and apologized for after the fact, but there was no way to have the game replayed as the event rules indicated no protests were allowed.
The Forge's Under-11 boys also saw their tournament run end on penalties in the semifinals, ousted by St. Louis' Lou Fusz Man United after a 3-3 tie. The Under-14 Forge side also had a 1-1-1 record in pool play, while the league's Under-12 team lost both of its group matches but closed out strong with a 10-1 rout of Indiana's Real Futsal in a consolation match. Lushaj and Domenick Genova coached the teams, which were the only Wisconsin sides in the event.