Kids played in the parking lot outside Erk Russell Park Saturday night, kicking a soccer ball while wearing masks.
In the home arena for Tormenta FC, a metal gate separated the field from the stands and VIP section. All staff members wore masks, soccer balls were disinfected after warmups and the night was quieter than normal.
Though strange and socially distant, sports made its return to Statesboro in the form of a 2-2 USL League One match between Tormenta FC and Chattanooga Red Wolves SC.
After taking the field for the national anthem, all players, coaches and trainers took a knee. The stadium acknowledged a 15-second moment of silence in honor of a united front against racism.
“I fully support it,” midfielder Marco Micaletto said of the BLM movement. “I wish I was more educated than I am on it. It’s important to have conversations. For people like me, having these conversations is good to educate yourself.”
Both head coaches wore ‘Black Lives Matter’ armbands.
“I grew up in a family where we didn’t refer to people as a different color,” Tormenta head coach John Miglarese said. “It wasn’t a white kid or a black kid. It was Henry or Jack. You look at my roster and we have all ethnicities, backgrounds, religions and we’re a family. I think it’s important that we exude that.”
Then the two teams kicked off with a couple of cheap fouls from both squads. The home team was more aggressive early on, led by Marco Micaletto and Luka Mayr.
Micaletto took advantage of his athleticism in the seventh minute. The midfielder cutback at the top right of the box, sending his defender to the ground, and buried the ball in the left corner.
“A goal changes everything and allows you to settle into the game,” Miglarese said. “Frankly I think we scored a bit too early because we tried to settle in and protect the lead rather than just dominate the game.”
Tormenta’s defensive approach for the rest of the first half relied on a quick counter. Before a water break at the 30th minute, Micaletto had two more shots and the teams exchanged yellow cards.
The USL mandated water break came right as the two teams were pushing each other over a no-call on Tormenta. The Chattanooga supporters section pleaded for a yellow card, but to no avail.
The Red Wolves came out of the water break shooting. They sent crosses into the box and forced goalkeeper Pablo Jara off his line.
Tormenta’s counter caught the visitors off guard once again in the 42nd minute, forcing Ricky Ruiz to slide tackle Micaletto as a final form of defense. Nothing came from the free kick, so Tormenta headed to the locker room with a 1-0 lead.
As the players made their way to the field after halftime, Chattanooga’s supporter section asked for three goals from the Red Wolves.
It seemed like the Red Wolves could fulfill that favor to start the second half — there were crosses and chances galore, two goals in nine minutes and Tormenta was silent.
The first goal for Chattanooga came via a strike from Greg Hurst just inside the box. The second goal came a few moments later, with Hurst heading the ball to complete a cross from Amirgy Pineda.
Rather than crumble with their first deficit of the young season, Tormenta used Hurst’s brace and another water break to come up with an equalizer.
Shots and chances came from all over for the home team, but nothing broke until stoppage time when Daniel Jackson finished a wild sequence in front of the net off of a Tormenta corner kick.
“We’re all really proud of our response going down 2-1,” Micaletto said. “We wish we could’ve kicked into our game earlier. Only in the last 15 minutes did we really start to play the way we know how to play.”
Hungry for more, Micaletto and his team continued to send balls into the box, but no more goals were scored.
For the first match of the season, Miglarese saw what he expected. It wasn’t the perfect, mid-july match he was accustomed to, but instead a 2-2 draw that saw stretches from both teams.
“Both teams probably feel like they could’ve won,” he said. “The biggest takeaway for me is the courage in those last 15 minutes to find a way.”
Tormenta won’t be able to soak in the win for long, with Richmond coming to town Tuesday. But getting the first one out of the way was a good starting point for Micaletto.
“We have balls on this team and it’s going to carry us this year,” Micaletto said. “It’s still a marathon. We can’t get over our heads when we’re doing well and we can’t get under our feet when we’re doing badly. We stay balanced and we’re going to get ready for Tuesday.”