In what was essentially a must-win game for both South Georgia Tormenta and One Knoxville for either to keep their playoff hopes alive, Tormenta earned their first clean sheet in almost five months and Mukwelle Akale’s sensational free kick near the end of the first half gave South Georgia a 1-0 win.
Immediately following the final whistle, central defender Preston Kilwien hugged goalkeeper Pablo Jara.
“I just told him how proud I am of him, of us and how he’s led us and been a leader for us,” Kilwien said “Him making some big saves and getting on us for not doing the right things, that’s what you want in a leader and a captain.”
Jara faced seven shots on goal for the night and was able to stop each one.
The win moves Tormenta into 7th place, ahead of Knoxville, in the standings where they currently sit two points behind Greenville and four points behind Forward Madison with three games to play.
“Two teams went into the game tonight knowing that, likely, whoever didn’t win the game, their chances of making the playoffs almost evaporate,” said Manager Ian Cameron following the game. “The thing that pleases me the most is last week, against adversity and coming from behind to win the game. This week, we hold on to the lead.
“You’re not going to win three or four nil,” he said. “At this time of year, it’s going to be tight margins and the last couple weeks we found that tipping point and we’ve got three more to go.”
The first half saw Knoxville able to create some chances early, but Tormenta’s defense, with their renewed commitment to doing the little things necessary to get the shutout.
“I think we tried to do the basics exceptionally well,” Kilwien said. “There’s moments when it was a little nervy.”
“We were able to defend set pieces better,” Cameron said of his team’s defensive performance. “It’s just more commitment to it. It’s minor details.”
“It’s details that have slipped up and slipped up and we’re hoping that we can rectify it just in time. We’ve left ourselves a bit to chew and we’re going to make a right good run at it.”
Jara said the team is already in a playoff mindset as their play this season has them with their backs against the wall as they make their playoff push.
“We still have another week of hope, another week of pushing ourselves and another week to come to work for a reason, for something to play for,” Jara said. “We’re still pushing day in and day out to get this club into the position they deserve.”
Jara said this shut out, the first for Tormenta since a 2-0 over Chattanooga on May 5, should give the team confidence to go do it again in the remaining games of the season.
“You have to do everything and sometimes it doesn’t look pretty but we need to get the job done,” he said.
Kilwien said it’s been an up and down season for Tormenta but hopefully the team still has time now that they’re playing better.
“It’s been a tough year for us and things have not always gone our way and we’ve not played our best, but I think you’re starting to see the best parts of this team,” he said.
Tormenta and Knoxville were scoreless into stoppage time in the first half when Akale was able to draw a foul about 30 yards out from goal on the right side. His free kick curled over the wall and by Knoxville goalkeeper Sean Lewis to put Tormenta ahead 1-0 just before halftime.
“That free kick is not by chance,” Cameron said. “Every single day he’s practicing quality reps of trying to do that and to visualize that. So it’s no coincidence that he goes and executes that again because we see it in training.”
Akale said he works on his free kicks every day to prepare for when he has the opportunity in the game.
“I stay until the coaches kick me off the field. That’s the secret,” he said.
He said it felt good to score the goal, but it was more than an individual moment for him.
“I really want this team to make the playoffs,” he said. “We have a lot of talented players from the defense to the offense. We have a talented coaching staff and ownership and staff. We deserve to be in the playoffs and we’re going to make that push for sure.”
With three games remaining, Tormenta currently has 38 points. Greenville has 40 points, but has five games left, including a game today against Richmond. Forward Madison also has three games left and has 42 points.
Were Tormenta to win out, they would finish the season with 47 points, meaning Madison needs six points over their final three games and Greenville needs eight points over their final five to eliminate South Georgia from playoff contention.
“We need three wins,” Cameron said. We’ve got to find a way by hook or by crook. We’ve not beat Richmond in a while. We’ve got to go there and beat them. We’ve not beat Omaha in a while, we’ve got to beat them and then, in the last day we want to see ourselves go up to Charlotte Independence knowing that if we win the game we might have it in our own hands and that’s what we’ve got to try to do.
“We’ve got to recover, go to Richmond with the best gameplan possible and see if we can get a victory up there.”
Tormenta will face Richmond on Saturday with kickoff set for 6 p.m.