This year's US Youth Soccer's National Championships and our Annual Meeting were held in the Boston suburbs of Westford and Lancaster. I spent a long weekend (four days) with my soccer peers from around the USA.
by MilwVon on July 24, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009Every year tens of thousands of youth soccer players participate at their State Championships with one goal in mind . . . to represent their state at one of four regional championships that will lead them to competing in July at the US Youth Soccer National Championships Series and the possibility of being NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!Unfortunately Wisconsin is not one of the national powerhouse states, like some of the larger states like Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California, but our teams generally hold their own at the regional level. It's been a couple of years since we've had a national finalist team, but we still enjoy attending the championship event and watching these amazing athletes compete at the highest levels.Teams from across the United States came to Lancaster, Massachusetts this year in hopes of winning the Championships. Each of the four regions will send a boys and girls team at each of six age groups. Additional teams qualify through the US Youth Soccer Nat'l Leagues. I spent an afternoon out at the fields during the group play. During this phase of the tournament, each of the teams play the other three in their age group bracket with the top two advancing for the championship match on Saturday or Sunday.Because we had a lot of rain overnight, the tournament schedule had to be modified slightly to include moving games from grass fields to turf (artificial grass) . . . still located at the same complex.A little about the complex. The Citizen Bank Fields at Progin Park are well kept and manicured fields. It was unfortunate to have the heavy rains, but the good news was that it wasn't sweltering in terms of heat, although the humidity has been high. It is a small complex, one that might surprise folks to be hosting a national level championship especially since there are no lighted fields and relatively limited seating provided for spectators (tri-level bleachers were at all fields in use for this event).The complex does have a nice snack bar concession stand complete with bathrooms (vs. the "blue rooms" you see at so many parks and facilities). Parking was somewhat limited, but tournament organizers minimized the inconvenience of the downhill (or uphill for your return trip to your car) by provided golf cart shuttle service. HURRAY for that!I watched the entire U15B game between Casa Mia Bays 94 (Baltimore, MD) and SCSA 92 Gold (Charlotte, NC). In the end it was a 1-0 win for the bracket leader Casa Mia. Attached to this story is a photo of the lone goal scored in the 9th minute of the game on a penalty kick. NOTE: For the soccer novice, U15B means "Under 15 (age) Boys". These kids were all 15 now (or within the next week) as the cutoff date for birthdays for this year’s event would have been 8/1/08.NOTE: On Saturday, July 25th the U15B Casa Mia Bays 94's won the National Championships and in doing so, accomplished the "double" as they had earlier this summer won the US Youth Soccer National League for their age group.Sunday, July 26, 2009Today I caught the last of the U18 girls championship match of Ohio Elite (OH/S) vs. FC Bucks (E/PA). While Ohio South held tough after an early second half goal by PA/E's team, that was enough for FC Bucks to get by them. (See photo of the great save late in the game, made by the Ohio keeper.)The second game that I watched was the U19B and another Casa Mia Bays team from Baltimore. Their opponent was NASA 08 Elite of Georgia, the top team in the USA as of the 7/24/09 rankings. At this age group, many of the players are already playing college level soccer and in this particular game most were playing at D1 schools.It was a very exciting game, with the Baltimore team winning their second National Championship this year for their club. With a goal in each of the halves, the game seemed much closer than the final 2-0 score.For those who may actually be interested in youth soccer and the US Youth Soccer National Championships, check out the championships’ page at: http://championships.usyouthsoccer.org/index.asp.
The Westford Regency Inn & Conference Center is located about 45 minutes outside of Boston to the northwest of the city. This was the location selected by US Youth Soccer to serve as the headquarters hotel for the US National Championships and to host our annual meeting. It was a very nice location, well outside of the hubbub of the busy city.With just 173 rooms, the Westford Regency is a small, intimate hotel that serves as a wonderful location for a meeting of the size of our group. They also have a very nice meeting area that provides ample space for large groups or parties as well as several smaller breakout rooms.As a full service hotel, they have a cafe, pub and fine dining as well as room service options. The menus are your basic fare, with the expected tilt towards New England seafood for dinner. I had breakfast at the Stony Brook Cafe which was a nice hot & cold buffet, for $10.95 on two of my mornings at the Inn. While I didn't dine in the hotel restaurants for lunch or dinner, others in our group did say that for the most part the food was very good. (I did hear of one bad steak experience, so perhaps it was an exception.)I did dine in my room one evening and thoroughly enjoyed my crock of clam chowder, New England style of course. It was thick and rich with potatoes, celery, bacon and nice clam clumps. Outstanding, served with warm poppy seed sour dough rolls.As for my sleeping room, it was very comfy with two full sized beds, a work area (with free Wi-Fi), a wall mounted flat screen TV, mini fridge and a spacious and well lit bathroom.The hotel also has an indoor swimming pool and fitness center available to all guests. While I didn't take advantage of either, many of our soccer folks did.The Inn has an older feel than it really is. I was surprised to learn it was built in the 1980's, as some in my group guessed it had been built circa 1900.Our group rate for our rooms was $119 which is an outstanding price and value, especially for the East Coast. I would not hesitate to recommend this location and the Westford Regency Inn for anyone looking for a nice, comfortable accommodation outside of the city limits of Boston!
During my time in Westford, the Westford Grille served as a nice place to get away from the hotel to have a meal and do a little business. During my four day weekend in the Boston area, I enjoyed two very nice dining experiences there.On my first night in town three of us headed over to "The Grille" for supper. We arrived at around 7:00pm on a Thursday night and had about a 20 minute wait. For those who might choose to, there is a nice bar right off the entrance by the hostess stand. Instead, we sat and waited patiently on the benches catching up since the last time we saw each other back in March in San Jose.Once seated, our server immediately arrived with water and to take our beverage orders. We had been advised that the menu had recently changed, which of course was lost on us being from out of town. The menu was a bit schizophrenic in my opinion . . . bit steakhouse grill (as the name implies) . . . a bit New England seafood (as you would expect in a suburb of Boston) . . . and even a little Italian. Ironically, our group dined on each of these three choices.By all reports the pork chops and chicken parmesan were very good. I had the broiled haddock with a baked potato and asparagus. The fish was light and flakey with a wonderful crumb breading coating. While they also offered a wonderful assortment of desserts, we did pass. Entrees were served with your choice of sides which could include soup or chowder, dinner salad, choice of potatoes or vegetables (of the day). Dinner was also served with a fresh loaf of dark bread.I was so pleased with our dining experience and still not familiar enough with the village to make any other suggestion, I suggested that we go there the following afternoon for an impromptu lunch meeting. Serving more of a sandwich and light entree menu, many of the dinner choices were also found on their afternoon choices.Sandwiches, however, were the choice of the day. Our meals included a reuben, pulled bbq pork and fried haddock sandwiches, everyone was very pleased with the size and flavors of our sandwiches. For sides, everyone opted for the sweet potato fries which were wonderful.Overall, prices at the Westford Grille were moderate and very fair. Dinner entrees ranged from $15 to $26 (prime steaks) while the sandwiches were between $8 and $10. They offer a wide assortment of salads and appetizers as well. If you want to sample some of what folks come to expect in this region of the country, the appetizers are a good choice.One last comment about the Westford Grille, their dining areas are compartmentalized which provides for smaller private dining areas to be created for those who may be looking for a place to hold a special event or meeting over a wonderful meal.More information, including hours of operation and menus may be found at www.westfordgrille.com.
by MilwVon on July 26, 2009
On my last evening in Massachusetts, I was the only one left from the Wisconsin group left fending for myself for dinner on a Sunday night. I had enjoyed my past three evening meals of seafood but for this time, I felt more like a good steak.Noticing that many places in the area were not open on Sundays, I stopped by the front desk to seek a recommendation from the desk clerk. Once we got past the "No I really don't feel like the chains in town like Applebees (horrible steaks) or Chilis (not much better). I really wanted to do something more unique and representative of the area. Reiterating that I was thinking of steak and not New England seafood (which had been great all weekend!), the young lady said . . . "Well if you don't mind the 15 to 20 minute drive, my favorite place is the Gibbet Hill Grill in Groton."Well good enough for me; I have a car!The village of Groton felt "very New England" with a tall church spire in view as you enter the town, with plenty of rolling hills throughout. The local shopping area had a very low profile and could hardly be recognized as stores other than the CVC sign on the main road through town.As I turned into the farm that is now home to The Gibbet Hill Grill and The Barn (a reception and banquet hall facility owned by the same folks), I knew I had accomplished my goal of finding something with local flair.Inside, the century old barn had been restored to her beautiful glory and now served as an elegant yet casually comfortable restaurant just five years ago. Upon entry, you are first in the bar area that has a large stone fireplace . . . probably a great place to enjoy good friends and beverages during the winter . . . or any time of the year I suppose.One seated, I couldn't stop looking around and up at the construction of the barn. It was really exquisite in every detail. My server Sue greeted me and was most cordial. I probably just looked like a tourist because I was spending more time looking around than at my menu. With an iced tea on its way, it was time for me to figure out which steak I would have for dinner.Known for the locally grown angus beef, they were running low on the weekend house specialty prime rib which was mine by me. I had my sights on the filet, which was offered in two sizes. I opted for the smaller of the two at six ounces ($23.50). With your choice of two sides, I rounded out my meal with a dinner salad ($2 add-on) and baked potato.To be fair, they are also known for entrees brought to New England centuries ago by British settlers. Chicken pot pie, meatloaf and shepherd's pie as well as a breaded haddock and free range chicken are house specialties here. Other entree sides include butternut squash prepared in pure Vermont maple syrup, glazed carrots, brussel sprouts, yukon mashed potatoes and wild mushrooms. Just before the salad was brought out, Sue delivered a bucket of breads including some really good yellow cornbread. Sweet and slightly crumbly, it hit the spot. The salad was equally delicious and pleasing to the eye.Shortly after I had completed my salad, my entree arrived. I must admit while it was delicious, I was surprised at the plainness of the presentation. I suppose there might not be a lot you can do with a chuck of meat and potato but they were served on a plate that was a bit large for the size of meat making the filet look even more dwarfed by the gigantic baker. Delicious might not even be fair as the flavor of the steak was really outstanding!After my meal, I was offered dessert but I was really not interested in adding late evening calories so I passed. At the table next to me, they ordered the rhubarb pie which sounded good, but still, I took a pass. One of the ladies at the neighboring tables also had a cup of coffee. When she requested cream, they brought out to her a small "milk bottle" of cream. Very cool . . . take a look at the photo attached.My dinner included tax and gratuity came to just under $34. I found the restaurant to be very comfortable for dining alone and I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and server. She learned more about youth soccer than she was probably really interested in but she was nice to ask me about my travels and what had brought me to the Boston area.More information about The Gibbet Hill Grill and The Barn may be found at their web site: www.gibbethillgrill.com.
by MilwVon on July 25, 2009
Belle's Bistro is located right off Littleton Road in Westford and about a mile from the Westford Regency Inn and Conference Center. It had become a fast favorite for many of the soccer folks in town for the US Youth Soccer Championships being held in nearby Lancaster . . . out in the suburbs of Boston.We dined early on a Saturday night, but if you're thinking about stopping in later during the supper hour, you may want to call ahead for reservations given their relatively small and intimate dining area. Our group consisted of four and we were seated immediately as perhaps the first guests of the evening at 6:00pm.Our server's name was Andrea and she was very friendly, wondering about all of the soccer folks who had taken over the place the past few nights. She remembered some in our group, so I don't know exactly what that means other than as a big group (around 25) they would have had a large final check and I'm sure tipped her generously.As she went through the chef's evening specials, she did tell us that there were no more Cowboy Steaks . . . reportedly a 20 oz bone-in rib eye that was a favorite the night before. That seemed OK as most of us wanted seafood/fish, although one in our group did enjoy the duck.Before ordering, a basket of fresh bread was brought out, to help take off the edge of the hunger pangs. Since it had been a long day of meetings and we did enjoy an early happy hour adult beverage back at the hotel bar, I was certainly ready to get a little something in my tummy.One in our group was intrigued by the Bistro Salad which was a lovely creation featuring candied pecans, cheddar cheese squares, dried cranberries & apricots tossed with a cranberry vinaigrette. At $10, it was enough to share among our table, so everyone had a little salad. I must say, it was almost too pretty to eat!As for dinner, I had the Maryland style crab cakes appetizer (times two) as my entree with a side of garlic mashed potatoes. Two of the others had the sea bass with a rhubarb chutney, with asparagus and garlic masheds as well. Entree prices were moderate between $16 and $27 which seems pretty consistent with other dinner spots in the area.Belle's Bistro had a full service bar providing a large selection 9of wines and many special martini concoctions. Additionally, they have a nightly dessert menu, which by all accounts from the night before, was outstanding. For this visit, however, everyone passed on the sweets.I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere and meal we shared. The dining area was very cozy and would provide a most intimate setting for those looking for a special place to take that special someone in their life. It was also good to share with co-workers and friends from soccer.They highly recommend reservations. Additional information may be found on their web site: www.bellesbistro.com.
Oakridge Farm Market is in the dairy farmland area that is located in the rural suburbs of Boston. It is difficult to imagine that this is less than an hour from the city as it is located in the quaint and seemingly quiet community of Lancaster. More importantly on this day, it was located just a couple of miles past the soccer complex hosting the US Youth Soccer National Championships. For me, it would be my lunch stop for the afternoon.From Hwy70 it looks much like the farmer's roadside stores you see in other parts of the country, including Wisconsin. It is more than a roadside stand, however. "Under new ownership" signs are on the front of the building so I cannot comment to "before" or "after" affects only about how it was for my visit in July 2009.As you enter, the first thing I noticed was the full table of beautiful yellow bananas. Not exactly what I would expect to find in a local community farm stand but I suppose they have to bring in much of what they sell given the seasonality of many fruits and vegetables.From here there was a wall full of shelves of jellies, jams, bread spreads and locally tapped maple syrup. As much as I love real 100% dark amber maple, I just couldn't bring myself to spend the $15 for approximately 10 or 12 ounces.As you walk through the large barn-like structure, there are other locally made products including pickles, relishes and sauces. The also had an assortment of jarred fruits (peaches, apples, pears). Another section had a nice selection of fresh garden vegetables and some locally grown blueberries and strawberries.To the back of the store was what I was looking for . . . the deli counter with a well stocked eight foot case filled with meats, salads and other refrigerated items. I placed my order for a turkey sandwich on a kaiser with lettuce and mayo. Using Boar's Head provisions (mmmmm good!), I was surprised that my sandwich was just $3.99 given the generous portion of meat provided. They also had all of the other deli type meats and cheeses ready to be sliced to order, that you would expect and might want to buy by the pound to take home.They also had a dairy and bakery area with locally made butter, milk and ice cream. The bakery case was filled with danishes, cookies, cakes, pies and other sweets.As they made my sandwich I wandered to round out my little impromptu picnic lunch. I picked up some locally made potato chips (dill pickled flavored, just for the experience), a black cherry soda (in a long neck bottle) and a chocolate chunk cookie from the bakery. My total lunch bill came to just $9.00.Out on the front porch they have several tables with chairs as well as some picnic tables out on the front yard under some large shade trees. It really was the perfect location to sit and enjoy my lunch, watching the world go by after my morning of soccer.If you are in or near Lancaster, I would encourage you to stop in at the Oakridge Farm Market to pick up a lunch to go.P.S. Sorry to not have photos to add but I ran my camera battery dead shooting the soccer games earlier in the day.
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