It was almost the perfect ending to the story.
South Georgia Tormenta FC, opening their new stadium in front of a season-high 2,000 fans, led 1-0 into stoppage time against the league leading Richmond Kickers and appeared to be on the verge of clinching a playoff spot.
But former Tormenta player and current Kicker Nil Vinyals had different plans. His free kick from 45 yards out sailed into the box and then past the Tormenta defense into the back of the net for a late equalizer as Richmond and Tormenta tied 1-1 Sunday night.
“It’s clearly a very disappointing end to the game,” said Ian Cameron, Tormenta’s head coach. “But we can’t lose sight of the big picture and the big picture remains that this is a celebration of Statesboro as a community. This is a celebration of Tormenta FC and what we’re trying to do for everyone in our club and what we’re trying to do across this region of South Georgia,” Cameron said.
Two thousand fans showed up for the official grand opening of Tormenta Stadium and were treated to an exciting, and historic, game.
Darin Van Tassell, a founder and current president of South Georgia Tormenta FC, is excited about what the stadium means for his team and for the region.
“It’ll be one of the best soccer-specific stadiums in the United States whether it’s our league or others,” he said last week.
When complete, the 5,300-seat stadium complex will include restaurants, shopping, office space and even apartments.
For Sunday’s game, the permanent bleacher stands on the visitor’s side of the field held most of the fans in attendance and has a seating capacity 2,500. Also, some of the small bleacher sets that were used at Erk Russell Park for Tormenta home games were filled with fans behind the goal lines.
“Of course, we wanted to win tonight,” Cameron said. “But the biggest thing about tonight was making sure the experience was one that people would enjoy. For some people, this might have been their first soccer game and we wanted to make sure this was an exciting one and they start to get it and they’re looking forward to the Chattanooga game (in two weeks) and they’re looking forward to next season.”
A dominant performance
Tormenta was able to take the lead in the 41st minute. Adrian Billhardt was able to create some space along the right side and fired a shot that deflected to the top of the box. There, Jake Dengler was able to get a shot towards goal when Fuad Adeniyi was able to flick it past the Kickers’ goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald for a 1-0 lead.
“I was just in the right position at the right time,” Adeniyi said following the game. “The coaches give us great opportunities to be in great positions and we did our jobs and thankfully enough it went it.”
The goal was Adeniyi’s first as a professional.
“It was great, especially to do it with this team,” he said.
Tormenta thought they had scored again just a minute later when Josh Phelps was able to collect a rebound from a Gabrial Cabral free kick and tap it past Fitzgerald, but the assistant referee’s flag went up indicating Phelps was offside and the goal didn’t count.
Tormenta looked to add to their lead in the second half when Kazaiah Sterling intercepted a pass and was able to get a breakaway opportunity, but his shot was saved by Fitzgerald to preserve the 1-0 score that allowed Vinyals to tie it up.
On the night, South Georgia outshot Richmond 15-11, including outshooting them 8-3 with shots on target but it wasn’t enough as Vinyals’ late goal tied it up. It was the sixth second half stoppage time goal for Richmond on the season.
“Football sometimes hurts you this way and a set piece like that can sail in and it’s unfortunate,” Cameron said. “But through the run of play there were some really good individual performances.”
Tormenta came in to Sunday night needing a win to secure a playoff spot. As it is, Tormenta still control their own destiny with two games remaining. The team just needs a tie in one of its last two matches for a guaranteed spot in the top six to qualify.
“You can’t go in to a USL One game saying ‘let’s plan for a draw,’” Cameron said. “It just doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to go for it.”
Currently Tormenta sits in fourth place with 41 points, one point behind both Greenville and Omaha and six points behind Richmond. The top two seeds get a first-round bye while the third and fourth place teams will host the first round of the playoffs. Tormenta will travel to Omaha for a key matchup before closing the season back at home against Chattanooga, who currently are one point behind
“We were able to test ourselves against the league leaders (Sunday) and then we test ourselves again, next week, against the reigning champions,” Cameron said. “There’s a couple of really cool tests and if we can pass them then we’ll be in good shape for future endeavors and for the playoffs.”