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Chargers, Lightning set to compete at Snickers for national championship

Coach Robert O'Nan remembers the moment well. Two years ago, his under-17 Clearwater Chargers team had just beaten 2-0 by Club Ohio Dynamo in the national championship, and thoughts had turned to the future.

"They made a promise right then, as we were getting on the bus after the match, that we'd be back," O'Nan said.

Tonight, they will fulfill that promise when they meet Scott Gallagher (Mo.) at the Snickers Cup National Soccer Championships in Indianapolis at 7:15 at Kuntz Field.

And they will have company. The Countryside Lightning under-20 team will also open play against Scott Gallagher in another semifinal at 2:15.

While the Lightning will be trying for a second straight championship, the Chargers will search for redemption.

In 1994, at the championships in Blaine, Minn., the Chargers fell short. Most of that team is back. Tampa's Eric Wolf and Kyle Krutzinger, and Pinellas County standouts Brian Freeman, Kevin McNamee, Seth Eigenemann, Joey Lazzara and John Jiga.

But last year, the failed to win the state championship. Instead, the North Futbol Club of North Florida did, beating the Chargers 3-1 in double overtime. In an unusual twist, however, the North Futbol Club _ which lost in regionals last year and has never been to nationals _ couldn't field a team this year.

"We've always played them," said O'Nan. "We've grown up with those kids. When they told me they weren't going to have a team next year, I (said) come play with us."

Five of those players have, including Jacksonville's Michael Burke, who scored the game-winner against the Chargers last year. The other four players are from Tallahassee.

"It's the perfect blend," said O'Nan. On one side, there is a group of young men hungry to atone for a failed championship appearance in 1994. And there is the new crop, hungry to win in its first championship appearance.

"It's a nice little double hunger," said O'Nan.

Since arriving Tuesday, the players have anxiously awaited last night's opening ceremonies and tonight's opener. O'Nan can already see the twinkle in his players' eyes.

"They're excited," he said. "You can definitely see a little spark."