WIESBADEN AIR BASE, Germany – It took a two-goal comeback in the final 15 minutes, a scoreless overtime period and seven converted penalty kicks Sunday before the Ramstein Rams were able to collect a shootout victory over the Vicenza Lions in the 2012 U.S. Forces-Europe soccer championship game.
Leighton Holness, the eighth Ramstein penalty-kick shooter, buried his shot in the upper right corner of the net finally to hand the Rams a 7-6 shootout edge that completed an unbeaten run through this four-day tournament that featured cold and precipitation throughout. His shot followed Vicenza’s second miss of the shootout and avenged Ramstein’s 2011 title-game loss to the Lions.
Holness’ goal drew a mob of teammates bearing congratulations and put an end to an improbable Ramstein victory. The Rams, victims of some unlucky bounces on clearing attempts, trailed 3-1 with just 15 minutes to go before Salvador Diaz rifled a grass-cutting, or in this case artificial-turf-cutting, shot just inside the right post to cut Ramstein’s gap to one. Six minutes later, Schyler Baxter made a strong run down the right sideline and crossed the ball to a wide-open Nicholas Henke for the goal which tied the game at 3-3 and forced the overtime.
The late strikes ended a frustrating stretch for Ramstein, which had seen Vicenza strike twice within four minutes near the end of the first half by capitalizing on clearance miscues at the back.
Neville Rose stepped in front of an attempted clearance kick and directed the ball off his chest and into the net. Wilmar Agilar followed by steering the ball into the net when the attempt to push a shot away by Ramstein goalkeeper Jerald Hutnik ended up on his right foot at point-blank range.
“We got off to a rough start,” said Ramstein keeper Colin Montgomery, who took over from Hutnik after halftime. “But we’ve got a great group of guys who have played together a lot.”
Vicenza, the defending champion, took a 1-0 lead 22 minutes into the game when James Watson’s long diagonal cross found Arric Alicea unmarked at the far post for an easy header.
Ramstein answered, however, three minutes later, when Henke placed a pass on the foot of Joe Berry at the penalty spot. Berry faked a shot, took a step to his right and drilled the ball into the net past the frantically scrambling Vicenza keeper, Shawn Durcan, who had been left to deal with the situation all alone by the Vicenza defense.
Although Ramstein seemed to dominate play thereafter, the equalizing goals were late in coming.
“It’s difficult to keep your head up,” said Baxter, who was showing as much speed at end of his fifth game in four days as he was at the beginning, about the inevitable discouragement factor which springs up at such times. “You just have to fight through it.”
At the end of the single 15-minute overtime period, the lights came on at the plush new artificial-turf field at Clay Casern and the penalty shooters came out. Each team failed on one of its first five attempts, and it went down to the eighth shooters finally to end the chilly proceedings.
The wait was worth it, said Montgomery, who faced all eight Vicenza penalty shooters.
“It’s great,” he said of Ramstein’s title. “It’s payback for last year.”