Clearwater FL— SoCal Legacy BFC defeated GFL Soccer Enterprises 5-1 to win the Major Beach Soccer BU14 National Championships at Clearwater Beach, Florida on Sunday, December 13, 2015.
With over 50 tournament matches worth of experience, nearly a dozen local championship wins, and countless hours of practice, SoCal Legacy’s Oceanside-based homegrown talent traveled to Florida to compete in the 2-day event, and were the only team in their bracket that went undefeated in the preliminary matches and final stages, as they claimed victory over local Floridian favorites such as Kicks, hailing from West Palm Beach, by a score of 7-4, and the Savages, from Bradenton, Florida, 6-3.
The match against the Savages was challenging, but their attempt to make a comeback early in the third period was defused by an amazing bicycle kick goal, scored by Eiko Rodriguez, which completely eliminated any hopes for the Savages to catch up to the “boys from Oceanside” who were on their way to the championship rounds. The picture perfect goal was assisted by goalie Jimmy Cruz, who made a perfect height throw, deep into Savage territory, which Eiko shot first time, in mid-air, into the back of the net. Known for his prolific goal scoring capabilities, by the end of the tournament Eiko had amassed 10 of the team’s 24 goals.
The next match was the highly anticipated contest between Legacy and GFL Soccer Enterprises (GFLSoccer.com) out of St. Petersburg, Florida. “We researched the competitors prior to our Florida departure”, said SoCal Legacy Coach Steve Citron, “and we noticed that GFL has strong relationships with various professional teams in the German Bundesliga and they routinely fly their youth players and teams over to Europe to train, try-out, and play against Academy teams from Bayern Munich and other cities throughout Germany.
To date, they have had 12 youth players from their club try out for professional teams and, this year, Stevie Rudderham was the first GFL player who signed with FC Magdeburg, and he is now playing in Germany. With all of this European influence, combined with the fact that GFL also intertwines beach soccer training into their traditional soccer programs, well, we anticipated that they would be the team to beat.”
In the third pool-play match of the tournament Legacy took an early lead against GFL, but the German-coached team from St. Petersburg battled back to stay within striking distance. Then Legacy scored a flurry of goals in the third period including a beautiful and powerful header from distance by Israel Ramirez to take the win by a score of 6-3. “The competition was so tight that we could have had a 3-way tie for first place, had we lost that match, at which point they would have decided the two finalist by tiebreaker rules, and we had simply traveled too far to risk falling short of the final, so I told the team it was a must-win”, added Coach Citron.
After their three decisive wins, Legacy moved into the championship match, but there was a 3-way tie for second place after the completion of the preliminary pool-play matches, so the second team to advance to the final was decided by goal differential. GFL once again emerged as the contender to take on Oceanside’s own SoCal Legacy in the final, and the stage was set for an incredible re-match.
Before the whistle blew for the start of the BU14 National Championship, Coach Citron urged the team to weather the storm and that GFL would come out strong with “everything they have” for the first half of the contest to try to secure an early lead, but that their energy level would eventually fade against the intensely trained Oceanside players. “We have been playing beach soccer as a team for three years and this year we maintained our training regime, after the spring and summer beach season, to prepare for this national competition”, Citron stated, “so our team can literally play for hours on the sand without slowing down.”
The first period was extremely competitive with both teams having significant goal scoring opportunities, but the boys from O’side pulled ahead 2-0, with goals from both Eiko and Israel respectively, while holding their opponents scoreless through the end of the first period.
But the game was far from over as GFL pushed hard towards equalizing by scoring a goal within the first 30 seconds of the second period. The action went back and forth and, as that period came to a close, Legacy was barely holding onto a narrow 2-1 lead. In the event of a tie, the match would go to a 3-minute golden goal overtime period followed by penalty kicks. “We did not want to go there, and had noticed GFL was beginning to look really tired at the end of the second period”, Citron stated.
With the third and final 10-minute period left to go, and only a one goal differential on the scoreboard, it was anyone’s game, but during the first few minutes of the period Legacy began to leverage their training and fitness advantage. As their opponents began to slow down, Legacy continued forward, looking for the right opportunity to strike. Then suddenly, midway through the third period, Israel scored again with what appeared to be an impossible shot from an incredible side-angle to begin building on the team’s lead.