EuropeD-I boys soccer
Stuttgart’s comeback kids take title
Stars and Stripes May 18, 2023
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – The Stuttgart boys soccer team might have been undefeated, but the Panthers sure had faced lots of adversity this season.
In the two tournament matches prior to Thursday’s Division I DODEA European championship game at Ramstein High School, the Panthers found themselves down against Ramstein and then SHAPE in the semifinals.
That trend continued in the final against Wiesbaden, as Stuttgart trailed midway through the second half. And just like the previous matches, the Panthers clawed their way back, this time beating the Warriors 2-1 to claim the European title.
“I was talking to them before, we’ve been in this situation before,” Stuttgart’s Itzak Sandoval said. “I knew we were going to bounce back. I know we’re resilient. We fight with a different kind of fight, man.”
First-year coach Nathan Garrett pointed to last year’s title-match loss to Ramstein as a big reason for this season’s resiliency. He mentioned how the players didn’t want to experience the same heartbreak this time around.
“I told these guys I would be happy to ride with them. These guys had a goal to get back here to put themselves in this position to have a chance to win it,” Garrett said. “Especially after last year, I can’t not be more proud of these guys.”
Sixty-four minutes into the match, however, the Panthers (9-0) looked headed for déjà vu.
The Warriors (8-2) disrupted Stuttgart’s rhythm for most of the match. They then produced a moment of magic in the final third, as junior striker Jacob Goodman drove a low cross that went through the box before finding the feet of senior striker Asher Anderson, who tapped the ball into the net in the 55th minute.
Stuttgart struggled to create chances for a few minutes afterward. Until Sandoval made something out of nothing, that is. The junior launched a 47-yard free kick into the upper right 90 net of the net for an equalizer about which Wiesbaden goalkeeper Evan Cook couldn’t do anything in the 65th minute.
“I saw (the goalkeeper) off his line – he was probably in front of the six-yard box. I was like, with just the right amount of whip, I could probably make it look like it’s going back post and curve it top right,” Sandoval said. “Longest free kick – longest field goal I’ve ever made, actually.”
The play didn’t come as a shock to his coach, even if the tournament MVP who amassed 10 goals over four matches hadn’t scored from such a distance.
“The kid’s a freak,” Garrett said of Sandoval. “Every shot he puts up, I know it’s going to be something good, something special is going to come from it.”
With the seconds winding down, both the Panthers and Warriors searched for the match-winner.
It came in the 76th minute. The Stuttgart press on the Wiesbaden back line caused a turnover near the 18-yard box, which fell to Stuttgart’s Christian Ingle. The freshman midfielder created some space for himself off the dribble and then cooly slotted it inside the right post like a grizzled veteran.
“I think the defense was already tired,” Ingle said. “It was a long game, and they made a mistake, and we took advantage of it with all the pressure we were putting on them.
“I was hoping to score in the championship, and I did it.”
From that point, the Panthers cleared any ball the Warriors sent into the box and held on for the European title that eluded them the previous season.
For Wiesbaden coach Roberto Eiseman, the outcome may have been disappointing, but he did not fault the effort, nor the execution of his players. For him, it was a special performance to hold the lead against the top-seeded Panthers for 20 minutes and push them until the final whistle.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t the score that we were looking for, but at the end of the day, they gave everything that they had on the field,” Eiseman said. “That’s all that matters.”