Maple Valley soccer player returns to Nationals

Zoe Milburn and the Eastside FC98 Red premier soccer team are attempting to defend their National Championship title in the U-15 age group

Zoe Milburn won’t let a balky knee get in the way of a title defense.

The Tahoma High School soccer star planned to return from a knee injury in time to play in the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship series in Germantown, Md., which started Tuesday and finishes with the finals on Saturday.

Milburn is a forward on the Eastside FC98 Red premier soccer team that won last years National Championship title in the U-14 age group. They were the first Washington team to win the National Championship since 1999. The U.S. Soccer National Championship is considered the oldest and most prestigious youth soccer national championship in the country.

Before leaving for Maryland, Milburn told The Reporter she knew the U-15 competition would be fierce, especially since the team Eastside defeated in last year’s finals, Premier Explosion 98, from Pennsylvania, is in their group.

“Any of the teams we played could have beat us and we could have beat them,” she said. “It’s really about teamwork and communicating. The skill level is all high. The only thing that separated the teams was attitude.”

The Eastside FC team consists of sophomore talent from high schools all around the Puget Sound — three from Sammamish, six from Bellevue, three from Seattle, and one apiece from Maple Valley, Issaquah, North Bend, Auburn and Renton.

The squad has more than earned its right for a title defense, after taking first place finish in U-15 US Youth Soccer National League Blue Division with a 6-1-0 record. They were the only team to earn more than four wins.

A bone contusion and patellar tendinitis kept Milburn off the pitch since May. She said she is about 90 percent better and expected to be a big part of the team’s drive for a repeat.

Milburn has been selected in the past to participate in the National Team training camps and she hopes to play for the National Team. She expects to play soccer in college, ideally somewhere on the West coast.

She said she prefers select soccer over high school because of the travel and because of the bond she’s formed with her teammates over the last three or four years.

Some of those teammates, like Thomas Jefferson’s Makaylie Moore and Kentridge’s Olivia Van der Jagt are rivals once the prep season begins.

“On the field it’s all game and stuff,” she said. “ We’re all focused. After, we always give each other hugs and stuff and say hi.”

The squad fundraises to participate in the week-long tournaments throughout the year, which can cost upwards of $20,0000 per team. Eastside FC donated 7,860 pounds of clothes/textiles to “Clothes of a Cause” as one way to help raise money for the trip.

The group also films team-building music videos. Last year, since the championships were in Kansas, it was a “Wizard of Oz” theme. This year focused on the 13 colonies.

“They are really fun,” Milburn said.

Milburn is excited to see how other teams around the country improved since last year. She’s optimistic about her team’s chances again.

“Last year we didn’t know how far we could make it,” she said. “We were believing in ourselves. We had nothing to lose. This year there’s a little weight on our shoulders. When we made the video it lifted that weight off our shoulders. We have nothing to lose. We’re just going to go out there and try our best.”