Penalties decide semifinal vs. California North
Several members of the MSC United 98 premier boys traveled to Las Vegas in October to compete in the Mayor’s Cup, joining players from FFSC and CISC, as well as a player from Houston, TX, to form the inaugural boys team for the new MSC-affiliate, Alaska Football Club. The AKFC 98 United boys defeated teams from Nevada and Arizona in Las Vegas, winning 6-0, 5-1 and 6-0, before bowing out after penalties in the semifinals to Mustang SC from Cal North.
With teams attending from 12 different state associations, as well as Canada and Mexico, competition was fierce, as the tournament’s #14 national ranking attests. However, playing for the first time with full sides on a regular-sized pitch, against teams who were not only in midseason, but also who have been playing 11 v 11 for two years, the AKFC boys used their training to great effect and showed up ready to play.
The squad began proceedings with a friendly match versus the Downtown LVSC Gold boys, who were also slated to be a possible semifinal opponent in the tournament. Playing under the lights at the Bettye Wilson Fields complex in Summerlin, NV, AKFC didn’t take long to get untracked, scoring just two minutes into the game, when forward Ben Sande was played through and finished with ease. Dillon Van Hoek doubled the AKFC lead only three minutes later and AKFC cruised into the half with the 2-0 lead. After making some adjustments, the Alaska boys quickly extended their lead in the second half, and even the 6-0 final was not representative of the one-sided play.
After a final training run-through on Friday, which included an emphasis on midfield support play, AKFC was ready to begin the tournament.
Up first, Las Vegas Premier, already 4-0 winners in their opening match and full of confidence. Too much confidence, as it turns out. Showing AKFC 98 United little respect, the team from Vegas came out with an attacking formation and played an extremely high defensive line, which was sliced open early and often by the speed and passing on display from the Alaskan squad. AKFC midfielders controlled the play, opening up the LV Premier defense with a flurry of dangerous balls. Forwards Dillon Van Hoek, Branndon Marion, Connor Zietlow and Ben Sande found acres of space in the attacking half, and the match quickly got out of hand. It was 5-0 after the opening 30 minutes, and as the match progressed and tempers flared, the biggest worry for the AKFC coaches was making sure no one picked up a red card.
In their second match of the day, AKFC again took the field with the lights on and the bright Vegas sun setting in the distance. Their opponents this time were from Arizona, Tempe Pros Elite, a dangerous team galvanized by the fact that a loss would put them out of the tournament.
The match started slowly, with Tempe determined not to let the AKFC forwards run free, and their commitment to getting players behind the ball made for a halting, inconsistent first half. Soon, though, AKFC found their rhythm and improved passing and movement led to the first of several goals. In all, six different players scored for Alaska, securing a semifinal slot for 8 a.m. the following morning.
As the knockout stages got underway, it was obviously the first time any of the Alaskan boys had played against California competition, as for the first five- to ten minutes play was definitely one-sided. Nervous and lacking composure, the boys found themselves trailing for the first time in the tournament, giving up a goal just minutes into the contest. Slowly but surely, however, AKFC 98 United worked themselves into the game and found an equalizer through Dillon Van Hoek by the midpoint of the first half. After the goal, AKFC grabbed control of the contest and kept the Mustang SC squad under pressure for the duration of the half. Unfortunately, the second goal just wouldn’t come—Connor Zietlow hit the crossbar with a shot from distance and Branndon Marion rounded the keeper on two occasions but couldn’t find the back of the net, denied once because he was taken down and the second time by a great play from a pair of Mustang defenders.
The second half began much as the first ended, with AKFC in control and peppering the Mustang SC goalkeeper with quality shots. Then, with fifteen minutes remaining, the California squad hit AKFC on the counter and again took the lead. With the game rapidly slipping from their grasp, AKFC renewed the attack, switching into a 3-5-2 formation, with left back Britton Clifford moving forward. With just three minutes remaining the goal finally came through a brilliant run and cross from Clifford, and despite several quality opportunities in the last minutes, the match headed to penalties.
Mustang SC Galaxy won the toss and chose to shoot first, burying their initial kick from the spot. Blake Hepler followed with a strong PK for AKFC 98 United, and the two teams combined to each go six-for-six with their penalties. Then Mustang SC missed, though AKFC couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity to win the match. It went to an eighth round, where the club from California finally came out victorious.
All in all it was a great showing for the Alaskan boys and highlighted the potential within this group. Now, more experienced and hungry for success, AKFC 98 United will begin preparations for a pair of tournaments in early summer 2009, starting with the US Club Regional Championships in Burlington, WA.
All seven of the MSC players who attended—Kyle Broach, Jacob Chew, Chance Fannon, Chase Fannon, Max Haines, Bailey Letherman and Ben Sande—continue to train with the AKFC travel squad.