Commentary

Ponte Vedra out to end title drought

Updated: November 29, 2009, 8:27 PM ET
By Sheldon Shealer | ESPNRISE.com

Two storms hit Lancaster, Mass., Friday.

The first dumped a couple inches of rain on the Progin Park soccer complex, forcing a short morning delay of the U.S. Youth Soccer national championship group contests and the shuffling of 10 of the day's 30 matches.

[+] EnlargeLuis Torres
Sheldon Shealer/ ESPNRise.com It was hugs all the way around for Ponte Vedra coach Luis Torres, left, and his players.
The second was the Ponte Vedra Storm (Fla.), an under-16 girls' soccer club team looking to end Florida's 14-year U.S. Youth Soccer title drought. The Storm, the unlikeliest of championship match contestants, secured a berth in the final with a 2-0 victory over the Dallas Texans on Friday afternoon that was part of a 17-minute flurry of activity at three fields all affecting the championship pairings.

"We're going to the national championships, this is our dream," said Tyler Law, who scored the first goal for the Storm.

The day started with five of the six under-16 teams with a mathematical chance of advancing to Sunday's national final. The scenario was simple for the Storm and Texans. The winner secured a spot in the final. At the same time, on adjacent fields, first-place DeAnza Force (Calif.) played fifth-place Syosset Rough Riders (N.Y.), and fourth-place SoCal Blues (Calif.) took on sixth-place Cleveland FC (Ohio). At various times between 1:30 p.m. ET and 3 p.m. four of the six teams were title bound, then came the 17-minute run that determined the pairings.

At the time, the Storm was clinging to a 1-0 lead, Syosset held a surprising 2-0 advantage over DeAnza and the Blues vs. Cleveland FC match was scoreless. Even as DeAnza converted a penalty kick in the 73rd minute, Syosset and the Storm, at the time, were headed to the national final. Only seconds after DeAnza's score, the Storm added a second goal to make it 2-0 and practically seal its place in the final.

In the 78th minute, the SoCal Blues took a 1-0 lead on Cleveland, which mathematically jumped the California team into second place at the moment. A minute later, a Syosset player received a red card and DeAnza responded in the 77th minute of its contest with a match-tying goal, which then bumped SoCal Blues from second place. The Blues added a second goal in its bid to get to the national final, but needed Syosset to score once more.

The match-ending whistle sounded first on the SoCal Blues match at 3:03 p.m. and following a quick round of handshakes, the Blues players gathered at the far end of the field to watch the Syosset-DeAnza contest, knowing its fate rested on that outcome. At 3:06 p.m., the final whistle brought an end to the Storm's 2-0 victory over the Texans and sparked a wild celebration by the Florida team, which rushed to the sideline with friends and family to bask in the national final berth while Texans players fell to their knees distraught over the result. One minute later, at 3:07, the DeAnza vs. Syosset match ended in a 2-2 draw, a result good enough to allow DeAnza to advance to the final and end the Blues' national title bid.

Allison Brashear
Sheldon ShealerAllison Brashear slipped behind the Dallas Texans defense for the second goal of the match.
Despite the dramatic finish, the day belonged to the Ponte Vedra Storm.

In the 30th minute, Tyler Law, on the left side of the field, launched a right-footed shot from 35 yards away that eluded the Texans keeper in the upper right corner of the goal for a 1-0 Storm lead.

"When I saw the goalkeeper moving, I knew it had a chance," Law said. "I didn't realize it went in until my teammates starting cheering and running at me. I thought, oh my God, I just scored."

The Storm held the 1-0 advantage until Allison Brashear slipped behind the Dallas Texans defense to bury a second goal on a one-on-one in the 78th minute.

"It's definitely an incredible feeling," coach Luis Torres said.

"Our club team has never done anything like this," said Storm player Morgan Brian, who was the youngest member of the U.S. under-17 World Championship team last fall. "This is such a surprise."

Club powers Dallas Texans, SoCal Blues and DeAnza Force were considered the favorites in this age group. All three clubs, with top-tier coaching and multiple layers of teams, have storied histories and draw players from major metropolitan regions that are considered hotbeds for youth soccer.

The Storm, however, hail from the Jacksonville, Fla., area, which is not a highly regarded soccer region. Until this year, the Ponte Vedra club did not even have a state cup title to its name. In addition, the Storm was fighting Florida's dark past. Until this week, no Florida girls' team had reached the US Youth Soccer national championship series since 2004 and the state's most recent national title was in 1995. By comparison, the Dallas Texans and SoCal Blues have combined for seven national titles since 2000.

After winning Friday's match, Torres understood well the magnitude of the team's accomplishment.

"The demographics in our area have never linked themselves to great soccer, but this team is an anomaly," Torres said. "We have six players who have been in the [youth] national pool and 12 state [Olympic Development Players]. We're a small club, a small team, but I know how hard they've worked, and it's been a great run for them. Hopefully we can finish it off with a national title Sunday."

Stars of the Day

Lauren Bohaboy, SoCal Blues: Bohaboy scored in the 78th and 80th minutes as SoCal Blues made a late push for a national title appearance with a 2-0 win over Cleveland FC in an under-16 girls' match. The Blues ended up third in the final group standings. Bohaboy was an ESPN RISE honorable mention All-America selection this past winter as a sophomore at Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.).

Juan Velasquez, DSC (S.C.): On a team with bonafide finisher Enzo Martinez, Velasquez emerged as the hero Friday with three goals. His performance helped DSC to a 4-2 victory over Javanon in the under-18 boys' match and secured a 3-0 showing in group play. DSC advances to Sunday's national final.