Tyler Fidrych and the Stonington High boys soccer team came up short in their quest to win a state title last fall.
But last Sunday, Fidrych and the Connecticut Olympic Development Program under-17 team finished what they started.
Fidrych, a senior-to-be at Stonington, helped the squad to the United States Youth Soccer ODP East Region championship during a two-week tournament at the Kirkwood Soccer Complex in New Castle, Del.
Connecticut beat Eastern Pennsylvania, 2-1, in the final, a rematch of a first-round game in which the two teams tied.
"It really was an amazing feeling," Fidrych said.
Fidrych has made a name for himself as a standout center midfielder the last three years at Stonington. Last season, he finished with eight goals and 14 assists and was named an ECC Divison I first-team All-Star. He was a key member of a Bears team that went 19-3 and reached the Class M state semifinals.
But for the Connecticut ODP team, Fidrych played a different role.
Aware that the squad had an abundance of attack-minded midfielders and few defenders, he saw an opportunity. So for a friendly game against the Massachusetts ODP program, he volunteered to play left back — and excelled.
"He performed so well you would never know it wasn't his position," Connecticut ODP 17U coach Sterling Smith said in an email. "So we decided to use him there for the tournament, and it was the best decision we made as a team."
Fidrych said the lack of backs was his chance to get on — and stay on — the field.
"There's a lot of talented players [in the ODP program]," he said. "There's a lot of creativity, a lot of technical players. Almost all of us play center midfield. My chance to play was guaranteed if I played left back, and I took it and ran with it.
"I really take pride in my defense," he added. "I like playing defense, not just offense. I was like, 'I'll try it out.'"
After Connecticut and Eastern Pennsylvania played to a 1-1 draw to start the tournament (Connecticut tied the game with 30 seconds to go in regulation), the 17Us reeled off four straight victories, including a 4-2 win over New Jersey in overtime in the semifinals.
In the championship game, they led 2-1 at halftime and held on the rest of the way despite having just one reserve because of injuries and absences.
"Tyler had a great tournament," Smith said. "He was outstanding for the team and came up big locking down the opponent's wing play on the left side of the field. His defending 1v1 was great all tournament long. He has confidence on the ball and isn't scared to attack with the ball from defense. His passes were good and he came up with some big tackles when needed."
Fidrych also scored a goal, converting a header off a corner kick in Connecticut's 7-0 win over New Hampshire in its second game of the tournament.
It all added up to a memorable experience for Fidrych.
"Some of us were talking with our dads, and saying how big it would be to put [an East Region title] on the résumé," he said. "I love winning and I'm a competitive guy, but when I signed up it was about getting recognized — my goal is to play Division I soccer. Then when we started to play, I just wanted to win and play with these awesome players. We really were the underdogs. We defended well, took chances when we got them and it was an amazing outcome."
There is not a national 17U tournament; only 15U and 16U. Stonington has two other players in the ODP program: Will Sawin is a member of the 15Us and Sam Montalto is with the 16Us.