A 3-0 victory over the Birmingham Hammers in Alabama last week set off a huge celebration in the Tormenta FC locker room — and at the squad’s watch party at The Clubhouse in Statesboro. With the win, Tormenta had clinched the Deep South Division and had notched a spot in the Premier Development League playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s three-year history.
And it didn’t take long to find something new to celebrate. While still on last weekend’s trip through Alabama and Mississippi, team president Darin Van Tassell notified them that they will be hosting the four-team Southern Conference playoffs.
“You should have seen how excited they were,” Van Tassell said. “We have - easily - the best fans in the PDL and our guys really wanted to play in front of them again. With the atmosphere we have, I think it’s worth an extra goal for us each time we’re at home.”
The playoffs will be hosted at Erk Russell Park July 20-21. Competing for the conference championship will be the winners of the conference’s three divisions, as well as the team with the next highest point total for the season.
Brazos Valley joins Tormenta, having already clinched its division as well. Three teams still have a shot at the Southeast Division crown and Mississippi Brilla — which Tormenta beat out in its division — is still mathematically in the hunt for the wild card, but will need a lot of help.
But there is still one more order of business left for Tormenta before concentrating on the playoffs.
The team still has a pair of games remaining in its regular season, visiting Tri-Cities Otters on Saturday before driving through the night for a Sunday matchup at Myrtle Beach Mutiny. Tormenta has expanded its roster to the maximum of 25 and hopes to run out plenty of fresh faces, but the club still needs to manage at least one point from the two games to ensure that it will be the top seed at the conference tournament.
“I don’t think anyone is taking things too easy,” Van Tassell said. “Everyone is locked in — players, coaches, even the front office. We may not have our winning streak (following a draw at Mississippi last weekend that snapped a 10-game run), but we still have the unbeaten streak, which we take a lot of pride in.
“And we will still get up for the next game. After all, we’ve never won at Tri-Cities and we dropped our game up there last year.”
Nothing has stopped the squad so far as it is one of just three undefeated clubs remaining in the 74-team league.
On top of that, there's an argument to be made that Tormenta has played the toughest schedule of any squad in the country. In division play, Tormenta dealt with Mississippi Brilla, which made it to the national semifinals last year. Also in the division were a combined three matches against Birmingham and Memphis, which will both be moving up to USL2 next season.
And of the non-division matchups, two have been against 2017 divison winner and current division leader Myrtle Beach and a thrilling 4-2 home victory over the defending national champion Charlotte Eagles a few weeks ago.
Seeding for the playoffs is based on total points earned during the regular season, meaning that the wild card team can potentially be seeded above a division winner. It will pit No. 1 against No. 4 and No. 2 against No. 3, but the seedings will be shuffled if necessary to ensure that the two teams coming out of the same division do not play in the semifinal round.
The semifinal matches on July 20 will be played at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Regardless of seeding, Tormenta FC will be playing in the 8 p.m. timeslot. Saturday’s championship match will kick off at 8 p.m.
The winner of the tournament will advance to the PDL’s national playoffs for a final four-team bracket where it will join the champions of the Eastern, Central and Western Conferences.
Ticket information for the Southern Conference playoffs can be found at tormentafc.com.