The only battle more fierce than the ones waged between teams during Saturday’s semifinal matchups of the Georgia State Cup was the one that raged between players and an unrelenting South Georgia summer day.
In all, 26 games were played at Georgia Southern’s Eagle Field and a six fields set up on the grounds of the Recreation Activities Center. The games featured boys and girls club teams ranging from U13 all the way up to the U19 level, setting the stage for 13 different teams to play for a state championship during today’s action.
“It was an exciting day and this is a great event,” Georgia Soccer Tournament Director Sharron Safiet said. “We had so much great competition. A lot of games went into overtime and penalty kicks. It made for a great show for all our fans.”
The tournament came to Statesboro for the first time last year and — following a successful weekend that brought approximately $1.5 million to town — the State Cup Final Four was glad to make a return visit.
The decision to come to Statesboro came as a surprise to some teams as nearly all Final Four participants originate from metro-Atlanta, but everyone seems to be coming around.
“At first, we had some people wondering why we were travelling so far to play,” North Atlanta Soccer Association (NASA) Executive Director Dave Smith said. “I think everyone has come around. Everything around the tournament has been very well run. I know all of our players are having a great time.”
Safriet added that the condition of the fields was a constant positive talking point for players and parents alike.
Perhaps the best compliments of Statesboro and the tournament come from a pair of impartial observers that will see as many games as anyone this weekend. Brandon Joseph and Eric Quintana are behind the mic for a second season, calling the action for select tournament games that are steamed through the Georgia State Cup website.
“I have sisters who are 15 and 11 years old,” Joseph said. “I watch more than my fair share of youth soccer and this is, by far, the best run tournament I’ve come across. Everyone is helpful and organized and the quality of teams is great.”
“A lot of host towns are just looking for what a tournament can bring in,” Quintana said. “(Statesboro) is different. People from around town have been involved since we got here and it’s clear that they really care about making sure that everyone enjoys themselves.”
One of the day’s most exciting games also happened to feature the tournament’s only locally based team.
Storm Soccer Academy — which is now linked up with Statesboro’s new Tormenta FC Premier Development League franchise — had its U16 make it to the state semifinals against a NASA club.
Storm fell behind early, but Payne Van Tassell found the net to make it 1-1, but the joy was short-lived as NASA retook the lead just a minute later. In the second half, Van Tassell lofted a ball into the box and found the head of a diving James Brighton to draw even again.
Unfortunately for Storm, that was the end of the scoring. After playing to a 2-2 draw in regulation, NASA’s Langston Blackstock scored his second goal of the day with just minutes to play to knock Storm out of title contention.
Today’s championship games will kick off at 9 a.m. Girls’ divisions will decide titles for six age groups, with the boys adding seven more championship games to the schedule. All streamed games can be viewed at georgiastatecup.com
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.