It was do or die day for the teams fighting for the 2012 USYS National Championship in the blistering heat of Rock Hill, South Carolina – and for some it was the end to a long season.
The boys U16 group had a roller coaster ride of emotions. The Michigan Jaguars (MI), last year’s finalist leading coming into the final group game with six points, stood strong against the Scottsdale Blackhawks (AZ) and had the game in hand. A 3-1 win ensured their place in Sunday’s Championship game.
Lehigh Valley United from Pennsylvania East (three points coming into this match) were up against home-town CESA Premier out of South Carolina (four points coming in) and were comfortably in control at the half, leading 2-0. Only a couple of very good saves by the CESA keeper stopped LVU from making it an even bigger lead at the break
But CESA, down but not out, drew once more on their team depth.
“Our depth helped us get here, and there are forty hard minutes left” said one parent – and he was right. Spurred on by coach Pearse Tormey CESA came out of half time with fire in their eyes. A couple quick corners for the South Carolina team saw the momentum beginning to shift. and then came the break. A brilliant strike from just outside the box pulled CESA to within one goal and minutes later their #10 Christopher Heijjer floated in a beautiful corner for Esteban Alvarado to place the perfect header into the back of the net. The roar from the home crowd shook the ground.
“I could feel it coming,” said Alvarado. “We we’re pushing hard”
Now the South Carolina team needed a little help from the field alongside them
Atlanta’s GSA Phoenix (also coming in with three points) were waging battle against Steve Lucey’s Arsenal out of Cal South, already with no chance of of advancement. GSA, on the other hand, would advance with a win.
It was not to be. Arsenal raced to a quick 2-0 lead with the help of inspirational play by left-side striker Jose Nuno before GSA clawed their way back into the game to tie with two come-back goals. Their hopes were dashed, however as the clock winded down when they gave up a penalty for Arsenal to get their only win of the tournament.
The wonderful weather, superb fields and efficient organization has done a lot to restore the luster to this event. “It’s been fabulous,” said Josh Hodges, coach of the Legends out of California South, a U15 girls team. “This is still the premier youth event in the country.”
Brett Strang, who’s U17 boys team, the Galaxy from Chicago Illinois also made it to the finals, was quick to agree. “It has been amazing experience.”