Kadena back on top after OT win
Stars and Stripes
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Mike Callahan had been in the same situation before, losing his key midfielder to injury and having to adjust before the Far East Boys Division I Soccer Tournament final.
As it was 13 years ago, Callahan’s adjustments proved to be the elixir Kadena needed to win its third D-I title in five seasons. Gerald Walton scored his sixth goal in extra time as the Panthers dethroned defending champion Kubasaki 1-0 in Wednesday’s final.
It was Callahan’s sixth title at the Panthers’ helm, and he called this one the “most special of all,” given that he lost his son, senior center-midfielder Junta, to injury in Kadena’s 2-1 win over Seoul American in the semifinals earlier Wednesday.
Callahan dropped Kian Smith, the team’s leading scorer with 16 goals, into the younger Callahan’s spot, and “the kids pulled together, made the adjustments and did a great job. It worked well.”
The move was similar to the 2004 tournament, in which top defender Alex Mierzejewski was elbowed in the eye during the semifinals and Callahan moved key midfielder Nathan LaGrave back to sweeper. The Panthers went on to beat the same Kubasaki team 2-0 in that final at Yokota.
In Wednesday’s showdown, both teams played staunch defensive ball, the Dragons having a slight advantage on the attack but unable to put the ball in the back of the net.
“Give Kubasaki credit,” Callahan said. “They had us on our heels, but we were able to get one and then we held them off.”
Walton scored early in the first of two 10-minute extra sessions, as mandated by the DODEA-Pacific athletics manual.
Wednesday’s final was the culmination of the smallest, shortest D-I tournament in Far East soccer history – four teams playing over three days.
The tournament had been scheduled to be played at Kubasaki High School’s Mike Petty Stadium. Heavy rain Tuesday forced all play to be moved to Kadena’s Ryukyu Middle School’s Habu Field the last two days.