Coping with a loss is never fun to do, but the task is even more brutal when the loss is not only the first one, but the one that also ends the season.
South Georgia Tormenta FC was one of only three squads in the 74-team Premier Development League to navigate its 14 regular season games without a loss, but Tormenta fell 1-0 to The Villages SC Friday night in the Southern Conference playoffs at Erk Russell Park.
“We hadn’t played a real competitive game in 10 or 15 days,” Tormenta coach John Miglarese. “Credit to The Villages. They’re a good team. It took us a bit too long to find our footing and they got a well-deserved goal.”
Playing on a soggy field - but on an otherwise pleasant night where rain had threatened for most of the day - both sides showed their postseason pedigree early and often.
The Villages was able to retain possession better than most of Tormenta’s opponents this season, but solid play from the back line didn’t allow many good looks on net. Likewise, Tormenta’s creativity and counter-attacking led to many goals this season, but The Villages was able to snuff out most chances while goalkeeper Timothy McGlynn stood on his head for a few clutch saves that preserved the lead for his side.
The Villages drew first blood in the 33rd minute of action.
Tormenta keeper Pablo Jara sprawled out for a great save, but Felipe Antonio was following the action and was able to shoot on a wide open net from close range after collecting the rebound.
Tormenta had last faced a halftime deficit against Charlotte last month and bounced back for a 4-2 victory. With its season on the line, Tormenta wrested control of the flow of the game in the second half, but never found the goal it needed.
Actually, Tormenta probably did find that goal - at least once - but that’s not how the referee saw it.
In the 64th minute of play, Toni Soler got the offense started near midfield. A few clean passes pressed the ball through the middle of the field and - much like the goal scored by The Villages - a save by the keeper resulted in a rebound put into the back of the net by Tormenta.
The home side erupted in celebration for a moment, but the referee determined that Alvaro Arche had been offside and the goal was taken off the scoreboard.
In what was a very competitive game with plenty of talent displayed by both sides, it was - unfortunately - more officiating decisions that painted the story of the final minutes.
“This is a special group of players and this loss is tough,” Miglarese said. “I want to keep my class about me, but we definitely feel like there was a goal and maybe a couple of penalties that we didn’t get.”
Late in regulation time, Villages launched a counter-attack after Tormenta had pressed nearly everyone upfield in hopes of tying up the match. Tormenta defender Ayao Sossou tracked down and tackled an attacker just outside of the Tormenta box. A yellow card was shown, followed quickly by a red. The red card was then rescinded, with Sossou remaining in the game and no clear explanation given for the confusion.
Nearly seven minutes of stoppage time was added on after 90 minutes of play and Tormenta nearly made the final minutes count. A foul was called that appeared to be inside of The Villages’ box. A defensive foul in that spot would have awarded a penalty kick for Tormenta, but the foul was determined to be just outside of the box, giving Tormenta a free kick.
Tormenta still managed to get off two more shots on net over the final few minutes of stoppage time, but McGlynn continued to be a wall in front of the net and time eventually ran out on what was a storybook season.
“We had our work cut out,” Miglarese said. “They got out ahead and we had to chase the game. I thought we did a good job of fighting back and we played well, but they made some plays and we couldn’t quite get the goal we needed.”
With the loss, Tormenta ends its season at 11-1-3 in PDL play and 12-2-3 including its run in the U.S. Open Cup. Tormenta will return a PDL team to action next summer, but will also feature one of the founding franchises in the newly-formed professional USL D3 league.
The Southern Conference playoffs will conclude tonight as The Villages take on SIMA Aguilas at 8 p.m. at Erk Russell Park.