If Saturday night’s matchup with the Greenville Triumph was a test, then Tormenta FC passed with flying colors. After dropping a close 1-0 battle to the Triumph last month during a four loss span of games, the month of June brought an incredible upswing of form to South Georgia, allowing the team to start making up ground on the rest of USL League One following the rocky start to the season. Now playing last year’s champion once again, it was time to find out if Tormenta really had shifted back into being a contender.
Rainy conditions are becoming aptly familiar to Tormenta this year, and Saturday evening was no exception. Familiar too was the way the game started: a tough, even matchup with little to separate the two geographic rivals. The previous meeting seemed to be repeating itself, until a free kick chance in the 31st minute by Tormenta was sent in perfectly by Luca Mayr. Defender Lars Eckenrode ventured forward to add numbers to the attack, and he was rewarded for it, reaching the ball with a diving header and scoring to give Tormenta the lead. Fifteen minutes later, on the brink of halftime, Tormenta found themselves in a nearly identical situation. Mayr again delivered a perfect ball, which redirected off the chest of defender Nick O’Callaghan for the second of the night.
A 2-0 lead is notorious in soccer for making teams complacent, allowing for the losing team to take back all the momentum with a goal and mount a comeback. Greenville came out of their locker room searching for exactly that, and five minutes later grabbed a goal from a phenomenal header by league leading scorer Marios Lomis. All the momentum shifted to the Triumph, but still the Tormenta defense hung on.
In the 81st minute of the game, South Georgia found themselves on a breakaway. Midfielder Marco Micaletto led the charge, and pulled off an incredible bit of skill to turn his defender before being kicked down in the 18-yard box for a penalty. Micaletto coolly stepped up and buried his chance, putting the home team out of reach and securing a fourth straight win for Tormenta FC.
“We’re under no illusions that results were not good in April and May,” said Head Coach Ian Cameron on the remarkable turnaround of the team, “but the players and staff never felt we were a team incapable of winning games.”
Part of Tormenta’s revival has come from finding the right tactics to fit the roster. The coaching staff moved to a five defender formation, bringing veteran Josh Phelps back to his more natural position and securing their own end of the field, and allowing the creative talent to fashion chances from breakaways. “Tweaks have been made to our positional play to improve,” said Cameron. “Later in the season we may have to transform ourselves again with tweaks, but the guys have continued to buy into the staff's message, and we remain in this challenge together.”
Wednesday night brought South Georgia back down to Orlando, where they took on Toronto FC II for the third time in two weeks. Both previous results went 1-0 to Tormenta, helping to push the team up the standings. This time, a lineup with some rotation, including first starts for goalkeeper Carlos Avilez and forward Kristo Strickler, would go for a fifth straight win. After a weather delay pushing kickoff back nearly an hour and a half, the match began, and from the outset Tormenta looked comfortable, dominating the first half with ten shots to Toronto II’s zero. But sports are funny.
Following the scoreless first half, things began to devolve. Tormenta, league leaders in being shown yellow cards, were collecting them like your grandma collects stamps in this game. A total of six yellows were given to South Georgia, and Toronto II added three of their own and a red card to top it off. The fouls would hurt Tormenta in the 61st minute, giving a dangerous free kick to Toronto II’s Luke Singh, who sent it perfectly into the top corner to give the Candians the lead.
As Tormenta tried to collect themselves, Toronto II charged down the field and doubled their lead just minutes later, tapping home a cross in front of goal. Then, miscommunication at the back for South Georgia allowed a shot from distance to luckily bounce off the goalpost to avoid a three goal deficit. Immediately afterwards, Tormenta moved quickly to the other end, and Azaad Liadi set up a simple finish for Stefan Mueller to instead make the scoreline 2-1 to Toronto II.
The game then opened up even more with Tormenta now trying for an equalizer. However, goalkeeper Carlos Avilez found himself pickpocketed by a Toronto forward in the 79th minute, who easily scored on the empty net for their third. Despite picking up the red card and going down a player, Toronto II was able to hold on to the 3-1 lead and cut off Tormenta’s winning run.
While a loss like that is certainly a blow to morale, fans shouldn’t be too concerned about how it will affect the team. “We’re under no illusions that all of a sudden in June we have all the solutions,” said Cameron before the match. “We know and accept USL League One games can go either way on any given match day. It’s a peculiar league in that respect and one that’s going to throw up some interesting storylines as the season progresses.”
Tormenta has a week to figure out what went wrong in the second half before an opportunity for revenge on Wednesday when Toronto II comes back to Statesboro for the two teams’ final meeting.
“Balance is everything in life. We keep working together as one united club. Through the good and bad. Our front office has been great with the guys week in week out, showing support in any way they can, as have the back room staff in different departments and our special fans. The guys feel that support and know even when we fall short that everyone remains motivated to make the most of our potential, starting with the next training session, team meeting, community outreach event.”