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The secret behind sending Syracuse area soccer teams to the National Championship

Syracuse Development Academy is turning Central New York into a soccer hotbed

Soccer season -- always in session for SDA.

"It is a long season, but I wouldn't trade it for anything," Jamesville-DeWitt senior Sophia Dimkopoulos said. "We've become so close. It's almost like my family. We're constantly together. We have girls coming from Binghamton, Rochester and Buffalo. To play with all of them -- we see each other two or three times a week."

Before you think it's just another youth soccer team -- think again.

"Scholarships are obviously huge in youth sports these days," SDA U-18 Girls head coach Michael Paolini said. "But we like to believe at any level, just getting them into college somewhere where it's the right fit for them. That's what our program's about."

The Syracuse Development Academy practices inside the old Thunderbird Lanes in Seneca Knolls, which has allowed for them to practice year-round, in-doors, through the inclement weather. SDA, a premier soccer club, pumps out the very best high school soccer players Central New York has to offer. The U-18 girls soccer roster, for instance. Every single player on that roster playing college soccer next season, including three-quarters of the roster playing Division-I. But that's in the fall, for now, they're worried about a national championship.

"Our goal, first and foremost, is to win nationals," Clinton senior Darby D'Angelo said. "This is just a step to that. We all have the mindset to win every game, and go at it our hardest."

This year, SDA sent five more age groups to regionals in Richmond, Virginia, including the U-13 girls from SDA East in Utica.

But for the U-18 girls, a team that made national headlines last season due to a controversial ending in nationals from Frisco, Texas, it's personal. Carlsbad Elite and Ambassadors FC were seen tanking a match in order to advance to the national championship.

The video went viral and was picked up by several national media outlets, including both USA Today and ESPN, highlighting the modern-day issues with youth sports.

As a result, SDA was eliminated from championship contention. However, this time around, SDA was told that will no longer be a problem.

"It was unfortunate," Paolini admitted. "I think the learning lesson out of it, for us, was to take care of your business. If we would've won the game before that we tied, it wouldn't have mattered. But you never want to see anything like that in youth sports that's going to determine someone to move on because, quite honestly, we had a really good chance to win it."

Whether they advance to nationals or not, one thing's for certain -- SDA is continuing to build Central New York into a soccer hotbed.

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