The way the former halfback from Belgium sees it, it's no surprise that the Bethesda Mustang soccer club is a semifinalist in the under-16 boys division of the national youth championships that begin Thursday in Woodbridge.

"Yes," Coach Guy Fraiture said confidently, a trace of his French accent still evident. "Starting at the beginning and looking at our talent all-around, we knew if we did our homework we had the abilities to come this far."

One victory away from Saturday's Niotis Cup championship, the Mustang will play the Metro Magic Wolves from Livonia, Mich., in a 9 a.m. semifinal. The Clearwater (Fla.) Chargers and FC United of Las Vegas play at 11 a.m.

Opening ceremonies are tonight at 6 at Woodbridge High School. The under-19 competition begins Friday.

The Mustang (31-8-5 since last fall) will try to join the Annandale Boys Club (1977), Montgomery United (1981), Columbia Kick (1982), VISTA Red Hawks (1984) and Columbia United (1987) as Washington-area teams to win under-16 boys titles since 1976.

The team is registered with the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association as a Bethesda team, but only two players attend a Bethesda school. Four players are from Bowie, two play for Fraiture at Georgetown Prep in Rockville, and the other 10 attend various schools in the area.

Eight players were selected for the under-16 state team, three made the under-15 squad and forward Mark Jonas from Bowie is on the under-16 national roster. Three others plan to go to regional camps.

While the attack is balanced, the Mustang can -- and will -- use two goalkeepers. Jean-Paul Chretien (Georgetown Prep) and Todd Compton (Seneca Valley) each played a half in five regional matches, with Chretien making crucial saves in penalty kick tiebreakers against Delaware and Eastern New York.

"It was no surprise we won the state cup," said Fraiture, who left Belgium in 1962, attended the University of Maryland and played for the Washington Darts of the old American Soccer League in 1965-69. "The excitement to win the regional was terrific. We were hopeful, and with a little luck in penalty kicks we went through. We've done our homework so we'll never regret anything we've done."