It seemed like every time Ziad Khoury's cell phone rang during the past three weekends someone on the other end gave him bad news. He almost didn't answer the phone last weekend.
The coach of the Newport Beach-based Slammers FC under-19 girls' soccer team lost so many players Khoury wasn't sure he had enough to form a team.
"Kids had commitments to summer school, the national team, to their college teams," Khoury said. "It was unreal."
The Slammers went into the U.S. Youth Soccer California South State Championship tournament with 18 players. The numbers dwindled after each match.
On the last day of the tournament, Khoury saw 11 healthy faces.
Khoury can call them the Slammers' 11. The 11 pulled off the biggest heist in the club team's history at the tournament.
Going up against the loaded Southern California Blues side, the Slammers on Sunday survived more than the heat in San Bernardino. Newport Beach won, 1-0, and claimed the Slammers' 28th title at the tournament.
"This one was the most memorable, more than any other one," said Khoury, who along with his brother, Walid, founded the Slammers in 2000. "It was really one of those against all odds. This is something the players will remember for the rest of their lives. I give the credit to the kids."
Khoury is asking the shorthanded Slammers to do it all over again. He believes they can, even on a bigger stage and in fewer days.
Newport Beach travels to Bernalillo, N.M., home of the U.S. Youth Soccer Region IV Championships. The event starts Monday and ends on June 27. Two other Slammers teams are also competing, the under-16 girls, coached by Khoury, and the under-16 boys, coached by CdM boys' soccer coach George Larsen.
Out of the three Newport Beach teams, Khoury said the under-19 girls face the toughest obstacle. Khoury expects a dozen players to make the trip and the Slammers to win.
Newport Beach has won at this level before. The previous time was two years ago, when the under-19 girls prevailed.
"The hard part is that we're going to play six games during a one-week period, compared to the six games we played over three weekends during Cal South," Khoury said. "We can do it. They have the will and determination."
Larsen is counting on his under-16 boys to make a run at the crown. The talent and experience on the team makes it possible.
Larsen has five members off his CdM team that won the CIF Southern Section Division IV and CIF Southern California Regional Division II titles this past high school season playing for the Slammers. The players are goalkeeper Connor Gaal, sweeper Greg Allen, striker Jack McBean, defender Jack Gorab and midfielder Mason Case.
The quintet makes the Slammers one of the favorites.
"These kids haven't gotten a lot of rest since the high school season ended in March," said Larsen, who guided CdM to a 27-1-1 overall record and a No. 2 ranking in the final national ESPN RISE poll. "This will be one of the first times they'll be motivated to play since the high school deal."