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Hot, humid weather to play big part in PDL championship

South Georgia Tormenta FC and Statesboro are ready to host the Premier Development League’s Eastern Conference playoffs. And while the semifinal matches don’t kick off until tonight, the competition is already underway.
    The four qualifying playoff teams — The Charlotte Eagles, Long Island Roughriders, Myrtle Beach Mutiny and Seacoast United Phantoms — were all in town Friday night and visited The Clubhouse to kick off championship weekend. The teams were treated to a welcoming dinner before splitting up into smaller groups to compete in various games.
    Bowling, laser tag and a jump rope arcade game were among the tests of skill as the clubs battled for family fun center dominance before trying to do each other one better on the field in the coming days.
    “This is a great experience for our guys,” Charlotte Eagles coach Dave Dixon said. “They’ve worked hard for the opportunity to play this weekend. We’re happy to come to Statesboro. The facilities are great and everything is done first class.”
    Looking to the action on the field, Myrtle Beach and Long Island will square off at 6 p.m. today at Erk Russell Athletic Park, with Charlotte and Seacoast scheduled to play their match at 8:30 p.m.
    Unlike professional soccer leagues that wind through more than half of a calendar year, PDL squads — which are mostly made up of collegiate players — must cram their entire season into a window running between May and July. Regular season play allows for division rivals to become familiar with one another, but the playoffs bring about matchups where opponents aren’t quite sure what to expect.
    “You aren’t quite sure what to expect,” Dixon said. “We’re up against a team from the northeast and those teams don’t stream many games, so we don’t have a lot to go on. All you know is that everyone who has come this far is talented and is going to test you.”
    “What we know for sure is that we’re up against three other very good teams,” Myrtle Beach coach Kyle Russell said.
    With all four teams boasting impressive records and stats, the conference championship could be won on the peripherals with some intangibles.
    For Myrtle Beach, that advantage could come with its familiarity and comfortability with playing in Statesboro. The Mutiny is the only one of the four squads to play a game in Statesboro in 2017 and also had the shortest trip into town.
    And then there’s the issue of the conditions.
    Today’s forecast calls for a heat index reaching 105 degrees and evening games won’t do much to chase away the midday heat. With two northeastern teams and a Charlotte squad that enjoys a slightly more Mid-Atlantic climate, the Mutiny could be best suited to thrive for two days.
    “We live in it and train in it,” Russell said. “We also have a team strength in our depth. We don’t do anyone any favors. Anyone on the field or our reserves have proven that they belong and we’re confident in all of them.”
    As for the northeast teams, the advantage comes from already being in playoff mode.
    Earlier this week, the top two teams from the Northeast Division played the top two Mid Atlantic Division teams for the right to come to Statesboro. Both Long Island and Seacoast defeated PDL powers in those play-in games and are riding waves of momentum into the weekend.
    “We’ve been in must-win mode for a while,” Long Island coach Flavio Ferri said. “We got a penalty kick in the 94th minute to get into the postseason and then we win a game to get here. Those games take a physical toll, but it also helps to build confidence and hopefully give a little bit of a mental edge.”
    All four teams will appear this morning at 10 a.m. at the Statesboro Farmer’s Market to be recognized and celebrated for their regular season accomplishments. The winners of tonight’s semifinal games will meet Sunday at 8 p.m. for the right to move on to the PDL national tournament.