ISB back on top after shutting down Lakenheath
May 21, 2016
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- The International School of Brussels Raiders weren't at their very best. But they were just good enough to be DODEA-Europe's best.
ISB edged the Lakenheath Lancers 2-1 in the championship game of the 2016 DODEA-Europe Division I boys soccer tournament Saturday at Kaiserslautern High School, emerging as the last team standing in a wild large-school season that saw perennial powers falter and new contenders emerge.
That season came to an end Saturday in a muted environment by the standards of a DODEA-Europe soccer final. The presence of two mid-sized out-of-country programs - and the absence of any of the large programs scattered around southwestern Germany - thinned the event's usual crowd and sapped its typical energy, as did the three drama-free shutouts that preceded it on the six-game championship Saturday.
But as the game wore on, the clash between ISB's finesse and Lakenheath's ruggedness gathered a momentum of its own.
There were times in the tournament where ISB approached transcendence, its sophisticated passing game pinging the ball from shoe to shoe around opponents all but reduced to stationary foosball figures.
The Raiders peaked in pool play Thursday in routing Lakenheath 4-0 and Naples 3-0, and maintained that level in the first half of the next day's semifinal as they built a 3-0 lead en route to a 3-2 win over Stuttgart.
They didn't reach that level Saturday. Lakenheath's gritty, physical approach was the cement molding around ISB's highly-trained feet, dragging the white-shirted Raiders into skirmishes and collisions they'd clearly have preferred to avoid.
"You cannot perform every game fantastically," ISB coach Philippe Kaisin said. "As far as football is concerned, we showed that we were the better team. "It was a decent final, not a great final."
The game's early going had the looks of another ISB rout. Ryota Nakamura sailed a beautiful shot high into the net for a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the game, well before the Lancers' defense had time to set.
he Raiders managed a second goal, this one by Matthieu L'Hostis, before halftime for a 2-0 lead.
That lead never felt secure as the Lancers stormed out of halftime with renewed determination. A third goal that might have put the game out of reach eluded the Raiders, and the Lancers finally shoved in their first goal as Jacob Croft converted a corner kick by Riley Fleming.
Lakenheath spent the duration chasing an equalizer; ISB spent it toying with the idea of an insurance goal while focused mostly on sabotaging Lancer chances with keep-aways and delays. The Raiders won out, and the Lancers never caught up.
Even after routing Lakenheath in pool play, as well as beating the Lancers 3-2 in the regular season, the Raiders got exactly what they expected on Saturday.
"It’s a final. They were going to come out with all they've got and were not going to give up," midfielder Eythor Bjorgolfsson said. "I think we could have scored more goals, but we're happy with the result."
Nakamura especially seemed poised for a high-scoring effort after providing the game's opening highlight. He agreed that he "wanted to score more goals," but a nagging injury and a few missed opportunities kept him off the board for the rest of the game.
A sizeable chunk of the Raiders' frustrations can be credited to Lakenheath, the unheralded eighth seed that ended up having a huge impact on the tournament.
The Lancers scraped their way into contention with a 1-0 win over Wiesbaden and a 1-1 tie with Naples on the tournament's first day; in the semifinals, they denied crestfallen Kaiserslautern the chance to play for a title on its home turf by ousting the local side on penalty kicks.
ll told, newly-reinstalled coach Greg Mako said the showing proved the Lancers were back on the DODEA-Europe championship scene, and planned to remain there indefinitely.
If they do, they'll likely tangle with these Raiders again.
Ever-present ISB won the title after losing to Ramstein 1-0 in last year's championship match, adding the 2016 trophy to the consecutive DODEA-Europe championships it won in 2012 and 2013.
Kaisin wasn't sure this senior-free group, which played SHAPE and Alconbury to draws during the season and lost to Ramstein in its regular-season finale, was ready to win a title.
But he was pleased to learn otherwise as the team found its way in the tournament, and on Saturday was impressed with the "composed" brand of soccer his team rode to the title.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't expect this result," Kaisin said. It was that kind of season.