DENVER – A local soccer standout and her U13 Charlotte Soccer Academy club team will test their mettle against some of the best teams from across the country at the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships July 22-26 in Overland Park, Kan.
Gabby Vatrano, 13, is a rising eighth-grader at Mill Creek Middle School in Catawba County, where she helped lead the girls soccer program to its best season in school history.
She was introduced to the sport at the age of four and fell in love immediately, playing for the Lake Norman Soccer Club in Mooresville for several years before joining the Charlotte Soccer Academy.
“She’s been playing since she was very, very young, and she’s just always been really competitive,” Gabby’s father, Tony Vatrano, said. “At that age you play with the smaller goals and it’s co-ed, so she was playing with the boys, and usually you don’t expect to see very much because all the kids are kind of clustered in a group, but she always stood out as one who wanted to put the ball in the goal. She just has a competitive edge that’s been pretty cool to watch.”
Vatrano’s love for the sport was cultivated through watching the professionals play, with their passion for the game fueling her own.
“It’s really cool watching all the professional players because they inspire me to keep getting better,” she said.
Like many young girls across the country, Vatrano was glued to her television throughout the U.S. Women’s National Team’s run to a Women’s World Cup title, which culminated July 7 with a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands.
“I thought it was really cool how, whenever they weren’t playing their best, they were still able to dig deep and find a way to win,” she said. “It was cool to watch and see how they inspire so many younger kids to want to play, and play at that level one day. It was fun to watch.”
Vatrano’s favorite player on the current U.S. roster is Alex Morgan, a forward who delivered 6 goals and 3 assists in 6 matches during the Women’s World Cup.
“I just like that she’s not afraid to shoot and take people on,” she said. “Also, since I’m a forward too, I like watching her because it teaches me a little bit more about how my position is played at the highest level.”
Vatrano is the lone Denver resident on her club team, but she enjoys the new relationships she’s built through soccer over the years.
“I like soccer because it helps me meet new people and I get to travel to new places,” she said. “That’s one of the things I love most about the game.”
Vatrano’s club team, ‘06 CSA South Elite, qualified in the fall to play in the highest league offered by state-sponsored club soccer, the U.S. Youth National League – Piedmont Conference, this spring. Her team dominated the league, which included some of the best teams from Georgia and South Carolina as well, going undefeated in 11 games while allowing just one goal all season.
From there, the team was one of 16 to qualify for U.S. Youth Soccer Southern Regional Championship in Baton Rouge, La.
The club breezed through group play, winning all three games in that stage before beating a pair of teams from Texas in the quarterfinals and semifinals, setting up a showdown with a team from Tennessee in the championship game June 27. Vatrano scored her team-best fourth goal of the tournament to give her club an early lead in the championship game, which they ultimately won 2-0 to advance to the National Championship tournament.
“The whole experience has been really cool, and it’s brought our team a lot closer because we’ve been spending so much time with each other,” Vatrano said. “It’s cool getting to travel and see different places through soccer, and the more we travel the better the competition is.”
Four teams, including Vatrano’s club, will compete for the National Championship July 22-26. The team will have at least one preliminary game that will be live-streamed nationally, as well as the championship game, if they make it that far.
The National Championship tournament will be Vatrano’s last with ‘06 CSA South Elite. She’s set to play U14 for Charlotte Soccer Academy’s United States Developmental Academy program, which is the highest level of soccer offered under the U.S. Soccer umbrella.
“I’m looking forward to playing against an even higher level of competition,” she said. “I’m also really excited about being able to travel more with the team. It’s an exciting opportunity.”
Her new team will practice Monday through Thursday in Charlotte, which is a huge undertaking for Vatrano and her family, but one they’re happy to tackle in pursuit of her dream.
“My wife has made the greatest sacrifice to make sure Gabby is able to be at practice every day throughout the years,” Tony Vatrano said. “But it’s not just us sacrificing, it’s Gabby as well. She gets out of school, comes home and grabs a bite to eat, and then she’s in the car trying to beat the traffic so she’s in Charlotte on time. She takes it all in stride and she’s always in good spirits, which is fantastic.”