Most soccer teams dread going to penalty kicks to decide a championship game. For Yemen Elite, it was a relief.
After withstanding 120 minutes of pressure from Buffalo United Soccer Stars (BUSS) - especially late in regulation and through the two overtimes - Elite trusted their composure in spot kicks, winning the Tehel Cup 4-3 in the shootout after a 1-1 draw Thursday at Sweet Home High School.
"I felt like we were all against the world here - we were doubted, 'we weren't going to win this game,' but we played with heart and determination; these guys played with everything they had and left it all out on the field," said Elite manager Faress Saleh after hoisting the cup. "We played smart and when we got the opportunities, we capitalized."
Maxwell Chirwa, Mateo Escobar, Pete Marlette and Kerri Pryce all left no doubt in their penalty kicks, and two late BUSS takers missed to hand the annual amateur men's tournament trophy to Elite. You can watch the penalty shootout on Periscope, via the @OfficialBDSL Twitter account.
"[BUSS] had a lot of chances - we stuck it in there," added Escobar, Elite's captain. "When we have all our players, we don't give up, there's no stopping no matter how tired the guys get. This was one of the games where we had to pull a Muhammad Ali and kind of let it loose, withstand the drive and then just finish when we needed to."
"We knew we were coming against a really strong team, a really fast team, that they'd be dangerous going forward," admitted Marlette after the match. "But we also knew we'd get our chances, and once those 90 minutes ended, I think everyone on our bench knew how it was going to end."
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*1-0, BUSS, 25': Orange-clad BUSS nearly got on the board in the first 15 minutes, as a through ball from deep-lying Abdi Sabtow sent Kyle Clifford in behind the defense. Once he rounded Yemen Elite goalkeeper Billy Hanford on the dribble, he was stripped from behind by a hustling Georges Betoubam.
BUSS got on the board not long after, however, as midfielder Yony Guardado went on a loping run, slicing by several different defenders before hitting a shot that slipped under Hanford's leg and inside the far post.
"Yony made a great play," explained Marlette. "I think he got by three of us to get that first goal...but we knew from the start that they would have a hard time shutting us out - so one goal didn't change anything."
*1-1, 35': The equalizer for Elite came on a picture-perfect counter attack. Reserve midfielder Matthew Owusu, who made the trip from Syracuse, used a burst of speed to find space on the left side, then sent an early cross with his left to a sprinting Kerri Pryce.
The first-year Elite striker curled the ball first-time with his left around BUSS goalkeeper Drew Colosimo - Pryce's teammate with the Elmwood Saints last season - into the gaping goal.
*BUSS PRESSES LATE: Although Yemen Elite had a nice stretch of possession and chances late in the first half, it was BUSS that dominated large portions of the second half and the overtimes.
Bobby Calvaneso's side was unlucky to go ahead through the vision of Mohamed Musse, who sprung Clifford in on goal in the 60th minute. The former Daemen College forward beat Hanford cleanly with his outside-of-the-foot finesse shot, but the ball caromed off the right post and was cleared before BUSS could pounce on the rebound.
Four minutes later, BUSS' Mo Hussein was presented with a glorious chance, as right back Rich Williams played a medium-range pass to his feet, maybe 20 yards from goal. The former I-Prep attacker picked up steam on the dribble, got past a defender with the help of a bounce - but then saw his shot stymied by Hanford, who left his line smartly the whole night.
Another breakaway for BUSS was left wanting in the 73', as Anthony Saysay's diagonal pass found an unmarked Ian Martin, who cruised in alone on goal. Hanford was deceptively quick off his line to narrow the angle, and Martin couldn't sneak his shot past the goalkeeper.
Three more chances ensued for BUSS, in rapid succession. Hussein veered laterally on the dribble to release a shot - which deflected en route to Hanford, who could only punch away. The loose ball was then served back in by Junior Geegba's to meet the run of Clifford, but his volleyed attempt from a bad angle clanged off Hanford, but not away from danger. The rebound trickled back to Hussein, whose strike bounced off a defender but wide of the target.
BUSS' most infuriating moment came two minutes from time: Musse's well-weighted pass forward sent Clifford one-on-one with Maxwell Chirwa, and the big forward shouldered off the Yemen Elite defender's challenge and finished with a low shot past Hanford.
The referee's whistle blew as the ball rolled into the back of the net - a foul had been called on Clifford for his shield of Chirwa's challenge. BUSS were incensed, with the would-be goalscorer beside himself in disbelief.
*OVERTIMES & PENALTIES:: Each team squandered a prime scoring chance in the overtimes, as Elite's Pryce nearly became the hero when forward partner Dan Barrie outworked BUSS on the left wing and cut a hard, low cross to the top of the six-yard box, but Pryce's first-time shot sailed over the crossbar. It would have been a tough finish, and heavy legs likely took their toll.
Physical fatigue didn't outweigh Elite's poise in penalty kicks, a characteristic Escobar didn't overlook.
"Strategically speaking, we had better shooters overall," he said. "The composure - I know they have a lot of young guys. As cool as they are on the outside, [it's different] when you get in those situations."
Escobar noted an example from his past, one he learned the hard way.
"In high school, I missed [a penalty kick my] freshman year in the section finals, and that cost us the championship," he remembers. "Since then, I can't remember missing a PK - maybe one in season where it didn't matter as much - but [no others] in the last five years."
*ELITE'S MENTAL & PHYSICAL FORTITUDE: Saleh rarely had a full complement of players to call upon during a disappointing BDSL season, but his four subs Thursday were crucial to the result. Even so, the winners managed despite several players - Escobar and Pryce, in particular - suffering from cramps, while Marlette hobbled off the pitch on two occasions - but kept coming back for more.
"The season was something else, but in the Tehel Cup, we've just been mentally strong," Marlette said. Saleh had kind words for the former BUSS midfielder Marlette, who's embraced an unnatural role with his new side.
"Pete came into this team, and his position was not really where he's at right now - defensive mid - he was more of a center midfielder," Saleh explained. "But I already had Mateo. I felt [Marlette] was a strong player in the middle - I felt like he'd be a nice blocker in front of the defense. He played his role fine and played with heart."
Yemen Elite: Billy Hanford; Georges Betoubam, Maxwell Chirwa, Pete Marlette, Benti Jodi; Ivan Lara, Mateo Escobar, Layth Alaekada, Kovan Menr; Kerri Pryce, Dan Barrie. Subs used: Matthew Owusu, Steve Ruotsi, Sulemana Ali, Nathan Adamec.
BUSS: Drew Colosimo; Prince Saysay, Josh Hammer, Polo Suazo, Bobby Calvaneso; Abdi Sabtow, Yony Guardado, Ian Martin, Anthony Saysay, Mo Hussein; Kyle Clifford. Subs used: Mohamed Musse, Rich Williams, George Tor, Junior Geegba.