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Black Forest Academy goalkeeper Kaleb Kroeker stops an attack on goal from Ramstein's Landon Shockey in the DODEA-Europe boys Division I semifinals on Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Black Forest Academy goalkeeper Kaleb Kroeker stops an attack on goal from Ramstein's Landon Shockey in the DODEA-Europe boys Division I semifinals on Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – If Wednesday’s DODEA-Europe Division I boys soccer semifinals were movies, reviewers could have a field day pointing out the similarities.

Both featured plucky underdogs against larger and favored opponents. Goals were scarcer than balls bouncing off crossbars. And the drama increased until the final few minutes when the favorites emerged as winners – sending their fans hope happy - while the losers could only hope there’s a sequel next year.

Ramstein will meet Stuttgart for the title Thursday after emerging from those games triumphant. The Royals scored in the waning minutes to down Black Forest Academy 1-0, while the Panthers needed an overtime period to defeat Wiesbaden 2-1 in a game that went scoreless until the final minutes of regulation.

“I think maybe it’s fitting that the No. 1 team and the No.2 team will be meeting in the finals,” Stuttgart coach Chris Kelly said.

The teams unusually didn’t play in the regular season due to a shortened schedule.

“That’s the game I’ve been waiting for,” said Ramstein’s Maxim Speed, who scored the game-winner for the Royals. “I’ve been waiting all season for it.”

But that matchup was in doubt Wednesday until late in each game. Ramstein took 20 shots on goal during the contest, but Falcons goalkeeper Kaleb Kroeker saved 10 of them.

The Royals’ best chances, in order: Landon Shockey’s shot hit the left post; Shockey’s shot from only a few feet away was grabbed by Kroeker; Speed’s shot hit the left post; Xaiden Franciso’s attempt after a crossing pass was 4 feet high; River Rocha’s header after a corner kick was 3 feet high.

“We created so many scoring opportunities in the first half,” Ramstein coach Dominik Ludes said. “Obviously in a game that is that tight, it often comes down to one opportunity. Would I have wanted that opportunity to come much earlier? Yes.”

It was still 0-0 late in the game when a handful of players fro¬¬¬¬m each team were battling for the ball just outside the BFA goal box. When a ball appeared to touch the arm of a Falcons defended, just about everyone paused.

“I did too, but then out of the corner of my eye, I saw the referee signal advantage and ‘play on,’” Speed said. “I saw a chance to take a shot.” He did and Kroeker never stood a chance to stop his rocket into the top left corner of the net.

Royals keeper Everett Majer said Ramstein had an advantage in such a contest.

“It’s the kind of game we played all year,” he said. “Coming into the tournament, we were prepared for tense games like this.”

The second game might have been even more tense.

Stuttgart dominated much of the play, outshooting Wiesbaden 22-6. But many Panthers shots weren’t serious threats to go in. And one reason the Warriors’ total was lower was they kept an extra player on defense, which made it harder for the Panthers to coordinate attacks.

“You’ve got to give Wiesbaden credit for their game plan,” Kelly said.

With just minutes remaining, Stuttgart’s Richard Youngs was pulled down close to the goal, leading to a penalty kick from Panthers’ captain Andrew Wagner. Wagner drilled the ball into the net.

But facing an end to their season, the Warriors made a final attack and thanks to a grabbed uniform in front of the Stuttgart goal, got a penalty kick of their own. Noah Lee connected and regulation ended shortly after.

After a few uneventful possessions, Wagner broke down the sideline of the left side of the field, received a pass from Ryan Stevenson, fired from the left side of the net into the right corner and the game was over.

“I saw a gap of space, got the ball and shot it,” Wagner said of his second goal.

“We hoped we were going to overtime, where anything can happen,” Wiesbaden coach Marco Zaccardelli said. “That happened, but it went against us. That’s soccer.”

The Royals and Panthers are set to play at 5 p.m. in Vogelweh.

Stuttgart captain Andrew Wagner scores the first goal of the game on a penalty kick Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the DODEA-Europe boys Division I soccer semifinals at Ramtein Air Base, Germany.

Stuttgart captain Andrew Wagner scores the first goal of the game on a penalty kick Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the DODEA-Europe boys Division I soccer semifinals at Ramtein Air Base, Germany. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Ramstein's Maxim Speed, right, and Black Forest Academy's Rafael Widmer battle for the ball Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the DODEA-Europe boys Division I soccer semifinals at Ramstein Air Base. Speed later scored the game's only goal.

Ramstein's Maxim Speed, right, and Black Forest Academy's Rafael Widmer battle for the ball Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the DODEA-Europe boys Division I soccer semifinals at Ramstein Air Base. Speed later scored the game's only goal. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Stuttgart's Richard Youngs makes a run at the goal Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the DODEA-Europe boys Division I semifinals while Wiesbaden's Nicholas Cardona tries to cut off his path at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Stuttgart's Richard Youngs makes a run at the goal Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the DODEA-Europe boys Division I semifinals while Wiesbaden's Nicholas Cardona tries to cut off his path at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Black Forest Academy's Kody Mishler matches Ramstein's Jayden Andrews as he rushes up the field Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the DODEA-Europe boys Division I semfinals at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Black Forest Academy's Kody Mishler matches Ramstein's Jayden Andrews as he rushes up the field Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the DODEA-Europe boys Division I semfinals at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

A free kick from Stuttgart's Itzak Sandoval clears its way over a wall of Wiesbaden defenders Wednesday, May 18, 2022, but it hit the crossbar in a DODEA-Europe boys Division I semifinal game at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

A free kick from Stuttgart's Itzak Sandoval clears its way over a wall of Wiesbaden defenders Wednesday, May 18, 2022, but it hit the crossbar in a DODEA-Europe boys Division I semifinal game at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Ramstein's Benjamin Brewster and Black Forest Academy's Cooper Swain battle for the ball Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany in the DODEA-Europe boys Division I semifinals.

Ramstein's Benjamin Brewster and Black Forest Academy's Cooper Swain battle for the ball Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany in the DODEA-Europe boys Division I semifinals. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Wiesbaden's Alessandro Eiseman is surrounded by friends and foes Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the DODEA-Europe boys Division I soccer semifinals at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Wiesbaden's Alessandro Eiseman is surrounded by friends and foes Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the DODEA-Europe boys Division I soccer semifinals at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Division II

The two teams that are playing a few hours before the Panthers and Royals are the Naples Wildcats and American Overseas School of Rome Falcons. They were the best two teams in Italy during the regular season.

AOSR, which defeated Naples 1-0 on Wednesday after the Wildcats had already clinched a spot in the finals, hasn’t lost in the tournament.

Division III

Sigonella, which battled against Division II competition during the regular season, reached the finals in dominating fashion, After a 1-1 tie with AFNORTH, the Jaguars outscored their next four opponents 20-1.

Brussels, ranked seventh heading into the tournament, has won all of its games by a margin of 19-4.

The Jaguars and Brigands, who haven’t played this season, are set to open the championship game slate at Vogeweh with a 9 a.m. start.

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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