by Kevin Anchundia

The 2014 Brooklyn Italians Columbus cup is a tournament where all soccer clubs around the country are invited to compete. South Bronx United 97 Strikers have been playing in this tournament for the past three years and this year we were lucky enough to join the tournament once again. South Bronx United 97 Strikers history in this tournament hasn’t been good.  Our overall record is 3-0-3.

On the first day we arrived to the tournament, our focus was singular.  We needed a win; it was as simple as that.  In the locker room, my teammates and I had our game faces on.  We knew if we played around we wouldn’t accomplish our goal.  As we were ready to leave the locker room and warm up for our first game, our new coach was ready to say his first speech to the team. Everyone was excited to hear it!  Coach Andrej made a powerful speech that inspired us.  For the first time it was nice seeing me and my teammates warm up together as a unit and organize. The warm up made a difference on the pitch. The first game we played was against Commack SC Academy.  The team played well but not as well as we wanted to.  The first ten minutes of the game we were playing awful on the pitch and Commack was taking advantage and attacking high. Commack had a few opportunities but couldn’t put it away and we got very lucky.

Warming up for our first game

Then we changed the game around and started attacking and playing better until half time.  Both teams looked even on the pitch.  We had good opportunities but couldn’t finish.  At the start of the second half, we played the best football that day.  We kept the ball moving from the middle to the wings and with one-two touches controlled the game pretty well.  In those 15 minutes, we got two goals which gave us the lead. The two goals were special to the team because they were goals which came from Ebenezer and Daniel, two of our newest players.  With 20 minutes left in the game we got too comfortable, which led to us giving up a goal.  Commack got momentum going which forced us to play more defensive.  Finally, the whistle was blown, and we were happy with the result.  We played as a team and supported one another.

On our second day of the tournament, the team had an early morning game, with a 10:50 am kickoff.  We woke up early and meet up in front of Yankee stadium at 8:00 am. Meeting each other in one place before every game is something our teams are known for. Waking up three hours before our morning game is standard, as we usually take the subway to our games. For our second game we took a van. We still had to wake up early just in case there’s traffic or any delays.

As our team headed to our second game, we knew we needed another win to have a better chance to advance to the next round. We all knew the team we were facing wasn’t going to be easy.  Met Oval was our opponent, and we had played them before in the league. We have a history of us playing Met Oval in the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League, but not since we were in the Under-14 division, when we finished second place behind them.  We still had confidence in each other that we would win.

Both teams attacked back and forth, with lots of fouls and good scoring opportunities in the first half. Met Oval opened the game with a goal in the latter forty minutes. We were down one to zero; we still fought through the game and try to even it out. Met Oval scored again in the second half with 10 minutes left. We manage to get a goal with five minutes left, with a lay off from our tall striker, Mamadou Traore, to attacking midfielder Brandon Paniagua, who shot outside the box into the top left corner. In the last five minutes we  pressured the ball. Met Oval played more defensive and held on until the final whistle was blown.  Despite the loss, we played well and had fought hard through 70 minutes of play.


Preparing before our final game

On our third day of the tournament, we knew we needed a win, in order to advance to next round either as the winner of our group or the best second place team.  We were ready to play our third game of the tournament, when we heard that a second place team from a different group, Toronto Lynx (of Canada), had won 5-0.   This meant we could would need to win by six goals to finish as the best second place team on goal differential.  Assuming Met Oval won its last game, this presented a huge obstacle.

At game time, it was South Bronx United Strikers versus Synergy Football Academy of Vermont. We started dominating the game in the first 20 minutes just moving the ball around, testing their goalie, making good runs.  Then Synergy started pressuring the ball, which started to turn the game.  But right when they started pressuring, we scored a goal off a fast break before the half time to go up 1-0 on a nice goal by Ebenezer Asante.  We came back stronger second half.  In the first 15 minutes we got another goal which led to Synergy to start playing poorly and gave us an advantage.  Then later on when ten minutes were left, we scored another goal which gave us a 3-0 lead. Our team became too confident and started making silly mistakes, which led to a goal from Synergy. At the end of the game the result was 3-1.   We took the win but didn’t advance.  The game went well for us almost throughout the whole game, until we made a mistake which allowed them to score which made things our goal more difficult.

Overall, the South Bronx United Strikers 97 worked and played as a team finishing with a 2-1-0 record.  We learned how to win and lose as a team. We also got a chance to showcase to some college coaches which was a big opportunity. Even though we didn’t advance we learned new things from this tournament that we can use to become a stronger team in the future.  I know that for me some things I can improve in is my speed and long passes. I realize that if I can improve in these things, I would become a stronger player over time.  I know my teammates learned things as well.  After this tournament, I believe the team can win the season this year.  Perhaps we can even make it to the state cup finals.