This article has been corrected.
The premier rivalry in DODDS-Europe Division I athletics will play out Thursday on its biggest stage.
Archrivals Kaiserslautern and Ramstein reached the 2014 DODDS-Europe Division I boys soccer game Wednesday night, fighting off stiff semifinal challenges to earn the right to play for the crown.
Ramstein 2, Patch 1: Man down.
The Panthers gritted through a long, difficult evening of elimination soccer short a player, sending their 10 competitors against Ramstein’s 11 armed only with a 1-0 lead and their own will to survive.
When Ramstein finally took advantage and tied the game, the Panthers redoubled their efforts and forced an overtime. Then they forced another.
Eventually, as one Ramstein shot on goal bled into another, as the opportunities piled up, the numbers caught up to Patch.
“The boys have heart. They wanted it,” Patch coach Eugene Macadagum said. “They knew that they were down, up against the wall, against all odds. But they weren’t going to let that deny them. They were going to win this.”
It was a Brienno Illari cross kick midway through the second 10-minute overtime, some 95 minutes of game time into the grueling battle, that finally triggered Patch’s demise. The kick sailed towards the Patch goal, growing ever deeper and more dangerous, until Cameron Hansen stuck out a foot and flicked it into the net.
Things started out much brighter for Patch, which played Ramstein to a scoreless tie in the regular season. Christian Rauschenplat lobbed in a goal from well outside the box for the only score of the first half. But that was as good as things would get for the Panthers.
A midfield collision led to a Panther red card, and forced Patch to play a man short throughout the second half and the overtime periods.
“I didn’t agree with it,” Macadagum said, calling the fateful incident a “50-50” situation.
Down but far from out, the Panthers kept the Ramstein offense off-track for much of the second half until Illari deposited a goal to tie the score. The Royals narrowly missed a knockout punch minutes later when Hansen clanged a potential go-ahead penalty kick off the left post. That missed shot, coupled with their general inability to take decisive advantage of their power-play opportunity, rendered Ramstein increasingly frustrated as the game wore on.
“I don’t know how much it was visual frustration. Kind of more inner, personal frustration,” Illari said. “Instead of letting the frustration take over, we let our personal desire to win…get us that goal.”
Hansen used the failure to fuel the success that came later, adding that he takes and makes those kicks regularly in practice.
“When I hit the post I couldn’t believe it,” Hansen said. “But when I turned around my teammates were right behind me, and they said, ‘It’s the next one.’”
“And that’s what happened.”
While most of the game was played with the Ramstein offense probing deep into Patch territory, the Panthers somehow produced their own occasional offensive chances. That included the final sequence of the second overtime, when Patch lined up for a promising corner kick.
Though it yielded an open look, the shot sailed high, and the epic game fell inches short of being settled by penalty kicks.
The exhausted Panthers collapsed to the ground at the final whistle, staring skyward or face-down into the grass as the Royals celebrated.
They eventually shuffled to the sideline as the lights went out and sunk the field into darkness.
“They’re an amazing team. They have true character,” Hansen said of the Panthers. “I couldn’t wish for any better competition.”
Kaiserslautern 4, Lakenheath 3: After years of disappointment, Kaiserslautern earned its title shot by edging the Lancers.
“It was very evenly-matched,” Kaiserslautern goalkeeper Anthony Walker said. “Lakenheath definitely fought very hard, but we definitely just wanted it more it seemed like.”
Kaiserslautern’s Sean Dunbar opened up the scoring in the first minute with a close-in strike. The shaken Lancers weathered a flurry of Raiders attempts that sailed wide or high before senior Taylor Oster broke free to even the game in the 10th minute.
The sides traded another pair of goals – one a header from Dunbar and a penalty kick from the Lancer’s Chris Miles – and looked ready to head into halftime with a 2-2 draw. That’s when Kaiserslautern’s Nick Walker capitalized on a breakdown in Lakenheath’s defense with a tap-in goal to close the half 3-2.
Dunbar’s third goal came in the opening minutes of the second half, a perfect close-in lob that floated over the goalie’s head and into the top right corner.
Two points down, there was still plenty of time left for Lakenheath to come back, but while they controlled possession, the momentum belonged to Kaiserslautern.
The performance redeemed a team that last year didn’t even make it out of pool play.
“Last year we bummed out, we didn’t do very well,” Walker said. “We’ve had a huge turnaround. It’s good to see the boys not let the history get to them.”
Even a late goal from Lakenheath’s Elmer Ramos didn’t shake Walker’s confidence that the Raiders would make it to the big game, he said.
“Ktown has always been seen as a team that, ‘Eh, they’re not going to make it out of pool play,’ or something like that. Well, we finally showed them today that we are not a team to be messed with. We’re here to fight and we’re here to win something, just like everyone else.”
Three teams – Kaiserslautern, Patch and Ramstein – remain alive for a berth in the Division I championship game. But they’ll settle the participants on the same day they decide the title.
The Raiders and Panthers eked out penalty-kick victories on Wednesday, with Kaiserslautern outlasting Lakenheath behind goalkeeper Montana Staab and Patch goalkeeper Goldie Bougher delivering a Panther win over Ramstein.
The teams are all in action Thursday morning as pool play ends.
Ramstein faces Vilseck, while Kaiserslautern and Patch face off. The winners will advance to play for the championship Thursday evening.
The girls’ format is vastly different from the boys’ due to the absence of a girls team from International School of Brussels. That left six teams in the girls bracket, leading to a conventional round-robin arrangement, while the seven boys teams were divided into two pools.
Brienno Illari was not credited with the winning assist in an earlier version of this article.