KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – Everything was in place for the Kaiserslautern Raiders in Thursday’s 2014 DODDS-Europe Division I boys soccer championship game.
Home-field advantage, complete with a raucous crowd. A hated rival in their house. The school’s first soccer championship shot in recent memory. A one-goal deficit, and a chance – several chances – at glory.
It just never materialized.
Two free kicks and a corner kick failed to produce the dramatic tying score the hometown team clamored for; the Royals’ one-goal lead held up for a 4-3 final, and the Raiders watched their nemesis celebrate on their own home turf.
Still, the game might represent a new epoch, at least on the soccer front, in the schools’ long and storied feud. Both squads agreed that the Raider team that took the field Thursday was substantially better than the squad that suffered a humbling 4-0 loss to the Royals in April.
“They deserve to be in the final,” Ramstein coach Dominik Ludes said. “This game proved it.”
Kaiserslautern head coach Ken Robinson said his team came of age over the last four days.
“We’ve made great improvements throughout the season. But the turning point was this tournament,” Robinson said. “The guys had a mindset, had a goal in mind, and every game in the tournament we’ve improved.”
On the field, the Royals noticed the difference.
“They pressured us a lot more than they did in the first game. They were all over us when we were playing defense,” Royal senior Devin McGeehan said. “We didn’t really have time to build it up.”
Raider freshman Alexander Dexter was proud to be a part of the Raider renaissance, and looks forward to more.
“You can’t be too disappointed. We’d be mad if we didn’t give everything we had,” Dexter said. “At the end of the season, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, sometimes it doesn’t work out.”
Things finally worked out for the Royals, who were ousted in the semifinals each of the last two years after winning a championship when many of the current team’s stars were freshmen.
“We prepared for this all year. This was the game we wanted to win,” Royal midfielder Cameron Hansen said. “We’re a senior-stacked team, and we knew this was where we were meant to be.”
Kaiserslautern came out a far friskier unit from the start. The teams traded sides like a tennis match over the game’s opening minutes, each making exploratory trips into the other’s territory. But the top-seeded Royals soon ended the stalemate: Brienno Illari scored six minutes into the game and McGeehan headed one in five minutes later for a two-goal Ramstein lead.
Kaiserslautern had an answer in the form of lightning-fast freshman Dexter, who sliced down the sideline for the Raiders’ first goal. Hansen shoved in Ramstein’s third score off a short-range ricochet minutes later, but a Sean Dunbar penalty kick pulled Kaiserslautern back to within a goal, 3-2, at halftime.
That furious first half gave way to a second-half swoon for both offenses. Hansen restored the two-goal lead with a penalty kick with just over 12 minutes to play in the game, but Francisco Gonzalez halved the deficit with a header off a corner kick. Multiple Kaiserslautern opportunities came up short in the final minutes, sending the home crowd into the wet night disappointed, with only dreams of future glory to warm them. For now.