Top seeds upended to set up surprise final
REICHENBACH-STEEGEN, Germany -- The top two seeds in the DODEA-Europe Division I boys soccer tournament were toppled on Wednesday as the No. 3 Stuttgart Panthers and No. 4 Kaiserslautern Raiders fought their way into Thursday’s title match.
Stuttgart knocked off previously undefeated top seed Ramstein 1-0, while Kaiserslautern handled second-seeded Wiesbaden 4-1.
The defending champion Raiders will take on the Panthers at 7 p.m. CET on Thursday on their home turf at Kaiserslautern High School. Stuttgart beat Kaiserslautern 4-1 in the teams’ regular-season meeting March 24.
Stuttgart 1, Ramstein 0: The Panthers followed an early goal with an interminable stretch of nerve-wracking goal prevention.
Abe Engelke tapped in a deflected shot for a first-half goal that proved to be the game’s only score. But there was plenty of activity over the balance of the game.
A lengthy injury delay interrupted the game midway through the first half, and Ramstein came out of the break the more physical and energetic side. But the Royals’ efforts failed to yield a tangible reward; their best chance came on a free kick screamer that diving Stuttgart goalkeeper Luke Matvey punched away.
Matvey said he only got “fingertips” on the shot.
“That’s all it takes sometimes,” Matvey said.
That’s been the mantra for the Panthers, who got the 2-0 margin of victory they needed to advance in a Tuesday evening preliminary against Wiesbaden before edging the favored Royals out of the tournament by a single goal.
“We’ve had a flair for the exciting,” Stuttgart coach Chris Kelly said, crediting the team’s senior leadership for its postseason resilience.
The Royals did their best to make it exciting in their own favor, but a Ramstein offense that was dynamic in the regular season was largely frustrated in the postseason. The loss of striker Chris Slover to a first-half injury made its plight worse.
“The biggest difference was that in the regular season we were extremely efficient in front of the goal. That didn’t happen in the tournament,” said Dominik Ludes, who announced that he plans to step down as Royals coach after the season. “We had chances.”
The low-scoring game was diametrically opposed to the teams’ regular-season meeting, a 4-3 Ramstein victory. Despite that loss, part of a 1-2 start to the season for the Panthers, Matvey said he consistently believed he was on a championship-caliber team.
“I feel like it was always a possibility,” Matvey said. “We definitely fulfilled our potential here.”
Kaiserslautern 4, Wiesbaden 1: The defending champion Raiders outlasted the Warriors in a heated rematch of one of the regular season’s most eventful matches.
Wiesbaden edged Kaiserslautern 1-0 in a May 4 regular-season match, but that outcome was reversed to a 1-0 Raider forfeit victory when DODEA-Europe determined that the Warriors used an ineligible player. That controversial result heightened the intensity of what was already a knockout game between the two southwest German rivals.
Kaiserslautern star Tyler Jankowski never doubted how Wednesday’s game would turn out. He said the Raiders were anxious to replace the forfeit win with a proper victory.
“From the start we knew it was ours,” Jankowski said. “We wanted to prove that we were better than them.”
That was eventually made clear as Kaiserslautern scored the last three goals of the game, two by Jankowski, to blow open a 1-1 stalemate.
Jankowski triggered the game’s first scoring sequence with a beautifully placed lead pass deep into Warrior territory, setting up a goal by Jaheim Allen and an early 1-0 Kaiserslautern lead.
Wiesbaden responded soon after, and the tie held firm even as both teams flirted with a go-ahead score. Kaiserslautern took repeated swings at a ball pinging around dangerously in front of the Warrior goal; Wiesbaden saw a penalty kick turned away.
The resilient Raiders applied fresh pressure to finally put the game away. Jankowski knocked in his first goal of the game off the rebound from his own blocked penalty kick, then struck from near the top of the penalty box for a second goal and a 3-1 Kaiserslautern edge. Pablo Zorrilla converted a last-second penalty kick to produce the final margin.
The fourth-seeded Raiders have been underdogs all year despite their status as defending champions, having lost a significant amount of talent from the 2017 roster. Even returning star Jankowski had to manage his expectations.
“I didn’t know if we were going to make it that far,” Jankowski said. “I would have been happy with just the semifinals.”
Instead, the Raiders are a win away from a repeat.