Kaiserslautern-Ramstein grudge match to determine champ
REICHENBACH-STEEGEN, Germany -- The rivalry resumes on Saturday.
The Kaiserslautern Raiders and Ramstein Royals, archrivals in terms of size, geography, history and nearly every other variation of the word, will play for the 2017 DODEA-Europe Division I boys soccer championship Saturday. The match starts at approximately 6:30 p.m. CET at Kaiserslautern High School.
The Raiders have owned the recent history of the rivalry, winning in pool play in 2016, edging the Royals 2-1 in their regular-season meeting March 30 and blanking the Royals 3-0 in a pool-play encounter Thursday. But the Royals won the last time the teams met with stakes as high as Saturday’s; Ramstein beat Kaiserslautern 4-3 in the 2014 European championship match.
Both teams advanced Friday with victories that typified their wildly divergent styles. Kaiserslautern paired a dominant offense with a lockdown defense in a 5-0 rout of SHAPE, while Ramstein dragged Naples into a midfield struggle and finally found the only goal it needed for a 1-0 extra-time win.
Kaiserslautern 5, SHAPE 0: Amid so many potential distractions, the Raiders focused on the two things they’ve done better than anyone this spring: scoring goals, and preventing them.
That formula has now carried Kaiserslautern to the brink of a championship.
The top-seeded Raiders put five different players in the scoring column while posting their fifth shutout in as many tournament games in routing the overwhelmed third-seeded Spartans and advancing to their first European championship match since 2014.
Senior Thomas Robinson said his team takes “so much pride” in shutting down opponents, even as the Raider offense garners attention with its dynamic attack.
“Even though we’re such a high goal-scoring team, we just focus on getting clean sheets,” Robinson said, using the preferred soccer term for a shutout. “We all stay together. We’re a brick wall. No one gets past us.”
Robinson complemented his defensive exploits with a goal scored. Alexander Dexter, Philipp Rimmler, Evan Heryford and Johann Mendez joined him in the scoring column.
The dominant semifinal victory comes a year after the profound disappointment of the 2016 tournament, when the Raiders were upset by upstart Lakenheath in the semifinal round.
Raiders coach Enrique John said the team didn’t directly tap into last year’s loss for motivation Friday. But the experience made for a stronger team.
“We didn’t think of it, but we learned a lesson from last year. Never underestimate opponents, and never think a game is over before but it’s played,” John said. “This year we took precautions.“
Robinson, one of several key Raiders back from that group, agreed.
“To be honest, we put that behind us,” Robinson said. “This is a whole new year, new team.” With one more win, the Raiders would also be new champions.
Ramstein 1, Naples 0: A physical European semifinal that goes into extra time without a score would be nerve-wracking for a lot of teams. Not the Royals.
Ramstein won a grueling match that was right in its wheelhouse when Dante Lapitan pounced on a Naples defensive miscue deep in Wildcat turf and deposited the game-winner two minutes into a 10-minute extra period.
Appropriate for the Royals’ consistently unorthodox method of winning, Lapitan converted the shot with his non-dominant left foot to decide what he called a “hectic” match.
“It’s not my strong foot, but you’ve got to use it sometimes,” Lapitan said. “I’ve got that foot for a reason.”
On the sideline, Ramstein coach Dominik Ludes was comfortable watching his team entrenched in the kind of gritty, glamorless game they have spent all spring playing.
“I told them right from the get-go, stay calm. This is a long game, it could go into overtime,” Ludes said. “Don’t panic.”
The fourth-seeded Royals executed that order. The defense, helmed by stalwart goalkeeper Peyton Buell, steadily cleared away the threats of second-seeded Naples and sent the ball forward for what offense there was to find on the other end. The perilous strategy has a very thin margin for error, but the Royals tend to find their way through.
“The team is used to that,” Ludes said. “Stay patient, you’re going to get your chance.”
That proved true Friday, as it has throughout the spring, and now the Royals get their chance at a championship.