With Far East tourney over, soccer season is lacking some of its kick
May 15, 2003
CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Seconds after the final whistle blew, Jay Irwin sauntered to the Yokota bench. The Panthers were unusually subdued considering they had just played their chief rival, Zama American, to a 3-3 tie.
“It seems a bit anticlimactic,” Irwin said of Tuesday’s “friendly” match, played 11 days after the Class AA Far East boys soccer final. “Usually, the season builds toward Far East. This was a friendly match. We still wanted to win. When we play Zama, it’s a big rivalry. But it still feels empty, since it came after Far East.”
This year’s tournament took place April 28-May 2, instead of late May, as Class AA events had since 1999. So for the first time, the Japan Soccer League season stretches two weeks beyond the Far East tournaments, culminating this weekend with the league tournaments — boys at Yokota Air Base and girls at Atsugi Naval Air Facility.
And with the big prize already claimed — Kadena beat Yokota 2-1 for the Class AA title on May 2 — teams, players, coaches and athletic directors throughout the JSL have adjusted to the extended campaign with mixed results.
Matthew C. Perry’s girls team and E.J. King’s boys squad suspended operations right after Far East, and the Zama American boys won’t have four regular members, including Jimmy and Brendan Flatley, who combined for 37 goals this season.
The Yokota girls team won’t participate in the JSL tournament because it conflicts with the school’s prom Saturday night.
The handful of games played since Far East have lacked the fire and emotion of pre-tournament affairs, according to coaches and players. Yokota principal Gary Gerstner labeled a May 6 Zama-Yokota boys game, won by the Panthers 2-0, as “lifeless.”
“There wasn’t much enthusiasm warming up, and not much spirit or urgency during the game. It seemed like everybody was playing out the string,” he said. “We’d just come back from Far East. How can you expect to get back in gear after that? It’s already over. There are no bragging rights left.”
The Far East tournaments were pushed up to late April, Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific officials said, to avoid conflicts with proms, spring concerts, Advanced Placement and SAT testing dates and early graduations. All take place in May.
Shifting Far East to late April brought an outcry from at least one athletic director, who hopes DODDS-Pacific’s Far East Activities Council will consider moving the tournaments back to May.
“The kids and coaches see Far East as the culminating activity,” said Robert D. Edgren athletic director and FEAC member Sandy Merchat. “It’s hard to keep them pumped for a season that extends two weeks beyond Far East.”
But starting the JSL season earlier than mid-March would severely impact Edgren, at Misawa Air Base, which has snow on the ground until mid-April.
Pushing the Far East tournaments back to mid-May would exacerbate conflicts with spring activities.
“Is there a solution? I don’t know that there is one,” said Zama American principal Erik Swanson. “I know we’re continually searching for one.”