Tulsa, Oklahoma – It was the day wouldn’t end here in Tulsa as we woke to dark skies that would soon be brightened by violent flashes of lightning.
Word came down early via twitter from US Youth Soccer that the days games would be delayed due to the dangerous conditions.
With 96 teams having traveled to Tulsa from all across the country nobody wanted to see the day washed out, even with tomorrow’s scheduled off day.
Advancement to the knockout rounds was on today’s agenda and one of the most intense age groups, girls U17 were up first when play finally got underway.
The group featured a matchup of last years US Youth Soccer National Championship U16 Final with defenders Beach FC from Ca-S facing Tampa Bay United Premier.
Despite the downpours the field looked to be in decent shape, although there was some slipping throughout. Tampa had already locked up a spot in Saturday’s semifinals while Beach FC needed a win or a tie to continue its title defense.
That urgency showed early with Beach pressing high and keeping Tampa pinned in its own end for long stretches of the first half.
That pressure paid off with a first half goal by a tenacious Taylor Bistline, who simply refused to be denied as she forced home the games lone goal.
Tampa were keen to flip the script in the second stanza and the Florida girls were aggressive right from the restart. But even with both teams going all out for the win there was still room for good sportsmanship.
Maxine Nagramada, one of Beach FC’s top players had to come off the field when she took a blow to the head. By rule she could not return before a trainer gave the ok.
Beach didn’t want to lose a top player, subs can’t return at this age group, so Tampa looked set to enjoy a temporary man advantage. Down by a goal this could have been the break Tampa Bay needed. Instead coach Adrian Bush voluntarily pulled one of his own players. Nagramana was checked and cleared and returned to the match as Tampa passed up a chance to take advantage of another teams bad luck.
Despite dominating the second half Tampa couldn’t find the Beach net and United were denied their revenge, for now at least. If the two take care of business in Saturday’s semifinals, Sunday could see a rematch of last years U16 Final, and what better time for revenge?
As tight as things were in that group, the boys U14’s were tighter still. All four teams entered today’s delayed action even in all categories, from wins and losses to goal difference, there was nothing to separate the foursome.
Against that backdrop Georgia club GSA Premier played Cincinnati United CUP Gold (Ohio-S) on Field 11, while Houstonians 2001 took on Baltimore Celtic Dynasty just yards away on Field 12.
GSA beat Cincinnati in an exciting game that featured the ejection of the GSA coach, the coach of the winning team. Still the story of the round in the group unfolded on Field 11 where Houstonians and Celtic battled, and I do mean battled, all the way through penalty kicks.
The field was muddy, the play tough and tempers were high. Celtic opened the scoring when Danny Paucar scored from a goalmouth scramble, but the Houstonians replied almost immediately. Adrian Cedillo was the Houston hero, but this game was just getting started.
And then started again, following a weather break of approximately 45 minutes early in the second half.
Neither team could find a winner in regulation, so it was on to penalty kicks. But wait, said the officials not here, not now, those are the rules, so move along.
A short while later that decision was over ruled or clarified, or something and it was indeed pk time.
Not much in the world of sports matches penalty kicks for sheer drama, from the World Cup right on down to a U14 Championship in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Not that there was much difference to these players and coaches. Houstonians would prevail 5-4 with Jose Reyes making the final save that would send the Texans through and Celtic out of the tournament.
Houston won the shootout 5-4, getting a bit of good fortune when Juan Rodriguez banked a shot first off the crossbar and then off Baltimore keeper Joseph McNally.
Celtic had a chance to win it in the fifth round of pk’s, but couldn’t convert. Then Reyes had his moment. Fans rushed from the bleachers to celebrate with their sons, or to commiserate.
Like they used to say on the Wide World of Sports, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. These kids never heard of the show, never saw the skier crashing off of that ski jump, but today they will know those emotions.
Houstonians move on, Baltimore head home. Today on fields all over the Mohawk Sports Complex that same drama was played out, many times over.
It is what makes sports hard, but more importantly, it is what makes sports great.