JOY IN THE DESERT
Oregon has a Regional Champion!
For the first time in 12 years and only the fourth time in history, an Oregon team will be competing for the title of National Champions.
The Westside Metro International Under-18 boys' team became the first Regional champion for Oregon in more than a decade by defeating Arizona, 2-1, in the final of the Far West Regional tournament in Lancaster, Calif. The Internationals advance to the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series final, July 21–24 in Lancaster, Mass.
Far West Regionals is a grueling endurance test for teams. The week kicked off on Mon., June 15, with the opening round of games. Tuesday and Wednesday were also preliminary games. Teams that advanced received Thursday off before starting the knock-out phase of the tournament.
OYSA teams advanced to the knock-out phase in 13 age groups:
Four OYSA teams — the U13B NWSSA Eagles, the U13G LOSC Extreme, the U18B Westside Metro Internationals and the U19B Westside Metro Gunners – advanced to the semi-finals, held the following day.
U19 Boys semi-final
Gunners posted a 2-0 lead in the first half that held up until the final minute, when Colorado Rush scored the equalizer to send the game to overtime. The Rush rode the momentum of the late goal in the extra period, scoring again and securing the semi-final win.
U13 Boys semi-final
The Eagles ran headlong into Santa Clara Sporting, the Cal North State Cup champion. A combination of a long week, a very good team and some bad bounces lead to a lopsided defeat for the Eagles.
U13 Girls semi-final
The Mustang Fury held on to defeat the Extreme, 2-1. In a game greatly influenced by the wind, the clock simply ran out before the Extreme found the equalizer in a game of two well-matched teams.
U18 Boys semi-final
The U18 Boys Westside Metro Internationals took the field against the Cal South Atlante S.D. with the wind in their faces. The Internationals threatened early but had trouble scoring. Erik Hurtado missed a sure goal with the keeper behind him when the ball slid just left off his foot, glancing off the left post after eight minutes of play.
Their fortune began to change at minute 17, when Jean Marie "Danny" Mwanga was fouled in the box. Daniel Maeda took the PK and buried it deep in the net to give the Internationals a 1-0 lead. Erik put away another chance at the 32-minute mark, finessing the ball untouched past the keeper from about 10 yards out. It was now 2-0,Internationals.
The Atlante fought back, taking two shots on goal that both sailed just over the crossbar. Then, 40 minutes in, the Atlante found an opening and scored – 2-1.
Danny was fouled again in the box just before the end of the half. This time he took the PK himself and, to everyone's amazement, he missed.
Cal South scored early in the second half, tying the game at two apiece, but the Internationals responded quickly with two violent shots on goal, forcing the Atlante keeper into amazing saves to hold the tie.
At minute 55, Cal South scored again, putting them one goal up. The Atlante keeper was like a brick wall – foiling shot after shot by the Internationals. Then, in minute 68, Danny got into a scuffle for the ball with a couple of Atlante defenders in front of the goal. Danny won the one-on-two with a quick turn and shot that flew true into the net. The game was tied again.
The Atlante were determined and responded by bouncing a shot directly back into play off of the crossbar. Minutes later, however, it was Quinton Beasley who fed Danny a perfect pass which he dispatched into the net for the game-winning goal in minute 85. The celebration earned Danny a caution, but it was worth it as the Internationals held on to the 4-3 lead until the end.
Championship Sunday, June 21
The skies were sunny but cool and the ever-present southwest winds came off the desert as coaches Montgomery "Monty" Hawkins, Constantine "Cony" Konstin and John Bain watched their team warm up as they prepared to meet the Arizona Sereno White - winners of the US Youth Soccer Far West Regional League in the U18 Boys division.
The game started at 11:30 in the morning and the wind was slightly to the backs of the Internationals, prompting those who had been at the tournament the last five days to hope that the team would take advantage early so they would not have to play "uphill" against the wind during the second half.
The Sereno had recognized that Jean Marie "Danny" Mwanga was a major threat and put two, three, sometimes four defenders on him. Every time Danny received the ball, he found himself boxed in by aggressive Arizona players.
The Internationals let their own aggressive side show in the eighth minute when Erik Hurtado scored following a breakaway that lured the Arizona keeper to come out and meet him. Erik beat the keeper to the ball, passed him and had a clear path to the goal. First blood – the Internationals went up, 1-0.
Erik fired again on goal in minute 12, but it sailed high. A corner kick at minute 17 netted nothing. By the end of the first half, the Internationals had held strong and the score was still 1-0, Oregon.
The game became a lot more interesting in the second half. All of the attention on Danny gave the rest of the Internationals more opportunities. Erik took another shot on goal in the 48th minute that was just blocked by the Arizona keeper with a one-handed slap. A few minutes later, Jackson Ray lobbed a beautiful cross that unhappily did not find any help.
At minute 60, Erik was again in the thick of things, driving one-on-one toward the Arizona keeper. He shot hard, but the keeper again deflected the attack – only to have the ball bounce high in the air and land near No. 9, Dillon Tufty, who stuffed it in for one more for Oregon. The score was 2-0, with 30 minutes left to play.
Two minutes later, it looked like the momentum was about to change. Arizona was threatening in front of our goal and Dillon drew a red card by handling the ball and interfering with a goal. The result was not only Dillon's ejection, but a PK that found its mark. Just like that, the score was 2-1 and the Internationals were a man down.
In minute 65, Erik Hurtado exhibited one of the most masterful dribbling demonstrations I have ever seen, taking the ball from deep on our side through multiple defenders all the way to within yards of the Arizona goal. He was finally double-teamed and lost the ball, but several of the referees from Oregon who watched the burst of skill and speed, just repeated the word, "Wow!" over and over. It was amazing.
Erik had another great opportunity a little later when, during a direct free kick from the top of the penalty arc, he fired the ball over everybody only to have it bounce hard off of the right post, just an inch or so below the crossbar.
As the second half wore on, Arizona brought more of their men up and a lot of time was spent on Oregon's side of the field. Keeper Eric Wilson made multiple saves – including two remarkable ones at the 73rd and the 76th minute, both of which looked to be sure goals.
It was touch-and-go, heart-stopping soccer, especially during the last 10 minutes of the game. Erik had one more chance, battling three Sereno players and still managing to fire off a shot that the keeper barely deflected over the crossbar.
Despite a few late chances, the Internationals' strategy at the end was clearly defense. The strategy paid off as the young men, a man down, held off the relentless (if frustrated) attacks by the Sereno.
The whistle blew three times and the Internationals, who had been to Far West Regionals three times, had done it; they had won! They had won the tournament and, with it, the right to compete in the US Youth Soccer National Championships, the most competitive and prestigious youth soccer event in the country.
Only three other teams in Oregon's history have made it to that big show.
After the game, coach Monty Hawkins said, "It is unbelievable. This team won six straight games. It is awesome stuff. It has been twelve years since an Oregon team has gone to Nationals."
When assistant coach John Bain was asked how it felt to win Far West Regionals, he said, "It's surreal."
Cony Konstin summed it up when he said, "It's a proud day for Oregon."
Indeed it is. A Father's Day to remember.
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