Royals' reign now at four years and counting
By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 22, 2014
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – DODDS-Europe’s other Italian soccer dynasty extended into a fourth year on Thursday as the Marymount Royals edged the AFNORTH Lions 2-1 for the 2014 DODDS-Europe Division II boys championship.
An opportunistic goal by Lotanna Mba and a go-ahead score by Diego Piorico rallied the Royals from a 1-0 halftime deficit and prolonged their reign atop the division.
The comeback wasn’t the product of any tactical adjustment, just the Royals’ realization that their championship window was slowly drawing shut.
“We didn’t change anything,” Mba said. “We just knew we had to do something.”
Marymount came in with a well-earned reputation for quick-strike offense, but it was AFNORTH that launched repeated attacks in the first half. One early such venture paid off with a streaking goal by junior midfielder Claudius Karich, giving AFNORTH a lead eight minutes into the game. That goal was it for the day, despite regular runs and shots over the rest of the 80-minute game.
“Clearly, we had a bunch of chances and it should have been three or four-nil,” AFNORTH coach Kevin Padron said, calling the loss “a heartbreaker.”
“We didn’t capitalize on those chances and we came up short.”
Marymount finally got its goal back midway through the second half on a piece of heads-up gamesmanship by Mba. The AFNORTH goalie was called for a handball outside of the box, setting up a Marymount free kick. Mba snatched the ball, set it on the ground and promptly kicked it into the unmonitored goal while the flustered Lion defense continued to loiter around in confusion.
Reacting quickly to the fluid situation, Mba said he figured he’d try his luck at a sly score.
“When he caught the ball, I thought the first thing I should do is shoot,” Mba said. “If it doesn’t count, we’ll take it again. But if it does, it’s a great goal and we tie the game.”
It did count, despite AFNORTH’s immediate protests. Padron wasn’t in full agreement with the officials’ treatment of the play, though he declined to offer specifics.
“I think it could have been handled differently a couple of different ways,” Padron said.
AFNORTH again ramped up its offensive efforts in response to the unconventional Royal goal, but every attempt sailed high or wide or was denied by Marymount goalkeeper Giammaria Montella and the Royal defense. The sophomore made a string of remarkable saves in the game’s final seconds to dramatically preserve the win. He dove to stop an initial straight-on Lion shot, scampered back to turn away a sudden follow-up and wrapped his arms around the resulting corner kick to ward off a score that would have forced overtime.
“It was really tense,” Montella said. “I was looking at the time and I was asking myself when it was going to whistle.”
Montella credited his teammates for bailing him out of a handful of dangerous predicaments, and said he was “lucky” with a few of his saves.
“Fortunately everything went well,” the goalie said.
With the loss, the AFNORTH boys joined the girls as European runners-up. The Lion girls fell short against Naples, Marymount’s dynastic counterpart atop the Division II girls ranks.
AFNORTH, however, is already plotting future coups.
“We’ll be back here,” Padron said.