Missing their first three penalty kicks and trailing 2-0 to Fairbanks’ Eclipse Phoenix, Sunday’s championship game of the 2013 Alaska Airlines Cup looked grim for the Juneau Soccer Club’s Boys 99 “Capital City Strikers” on the pitch at ConocoPhillips Soccer Stadium in Anchorage.
“It was very stressful I think for all the members of the team,” Strikers’ coach Troy Choquette said. “I was very impressed with how the kids handled themselves. They stuck in it and we were fortunate to get through and score. It is always difficult when a game comes down to penalties to decide a winner like that, it is very tough for both teams. Our shooters as well as our goalkeeper did a fantastic job.”
Juneau would need to make two in a row and the Phoenix would have to miss their fifth attempt just to keep the game alive.
JJ Mosher put a confident low strike into the left side of the back of the net for the Strikers. The next Phoenix kicker was disrupted by Strikers’ keeper John Seymour and sailed one high and over the bar.
JSC’s Ben Underraga knotted the shootout at nearly the same spot on the back of the net that Mosher did.
The Phoenix claimed the score again, just squeezing the next shot past Seymour who got a piece of the ball. Sherrod Miller gave Juneau hope again, putting a shot to the upper right corner of the net.
Seymour got more than a piece on the next Phoenix shot, catching the blast and giving Juneau a chance to win.
“I was trying to not feel nervous,” Seymour said. “My coach had told me right before I went out there that I could do it. It felt great because I got to watch my team celebrate and the refs had to hold them back.”
The Strikers’ Eli Gregory delivered a ball low and out of reach of the keeper and into the back of the net for the title.
“Before I went up to the shot I was kind of nervous,” Gregory said. “When I set the ball down I kind of knew where I wanted to hit it and just placed it. I just picked a corner and hit it, perfect. My first thought when it went through was that we won. Our whole team contributed. We worked well together through the whole tournament.”
The championship was the second in three years for the Strikers (they defeated Cook Inlet’s Velocity Blue 3-2 in 2011) and one of the hardest earned. The two sides played a competitive 70 minutes of regular time that ended at 1-1.
The Strikers struggled to put an offensive run together and maintain any momentum as the Phoenix defense put pressure on the ball and repeatedly disrupted JSC’s attempt to put anything together.
Brysen Mitchell delivered a through-ball to JJ Mosher in the 18 th minute but the ensuing shot went wide right. The Phoenix countered with a missed opportunity on a corner kick rebound that was crossed back to an open player who missed wide left.
The Phoenix got on the scoreboard midway through the half as Strikers goalie blocked a tough kick from ten yards out only to have the ball bounce back to the same attacker before it could be cleared and Fairbanks had the 1-0 advantage.
Fairbanks now had momentum and continued to keep possession in the Strikers end. JSC players Igor Healy, Riley Olsen, Eli Gregory and Seymour were credited with clutch blocks and clearances to slow the Eclipse attack.
With five minutes remaining in the first half Mosher ran down a ball in the right corner and crossed a pass toward the goal, instead the ball arched over the helpless Phoenix goalkeeper and settled in the far post for the tying score.
“I took a pretty big touch on the first touch,” Mosher said. “I was running for it and it was more of a cross than a shot but the goalie was unprepared and a little too far out in the box. He was backpedaling and it was over his head. I didn’t see it go in. I thought it was going over the goal completely. The tournament was fun, we got to play some new teams.”
Mosher had another chance on goal two minutes later but a charging Phoenix defender blocked his shot.
Choquette adjusted play after halftime and the Juneau club began to overcome the Phoenix defense by speeding up their play with one and two-touch passing combinations, forcing the opposing defenders to scatter and chase.
“I was most impressed with the fact that the team hung together in the difficult times where we were down or were not playing as well as we knew we could,” Choquette said. “They continued to pick themselves up and really push and they deserve the results they got as a team. They really worked together and helped bring each other up.”
JSC’s Rogelio Shapland-Murray was inserted at striker and drew defenders to open space outside for his side’s attacking midfielders. Michael White controlled the middle with precision passing and solid defending and Sherrod Miller sped up the game with passing combinations to Mosher and Ben Underraga.
Undurraga took a pass from Mosher in the 41 st but his shot was blocked at the goal. The Strikers had three more shots in a 2-minute span but failed to find the back of the net.
In two 10-minute overtime halves neither team mounted a serious threat on goal. Mosher missed high right with two minutes into the second overtime and Miller fired a shot that was blocked by the goaltender a minute later. A corner kick by Riley Olsen allowed Mosher to put a header on frame but it was handled by the Phoenix keeper. Olsen had a shot from 15 yards that went wide with three minutes remaining and the 1-1 score stood to force the shootout.
“It was an amazing game,” Choquette said. “Then energy of both teams, and the crowd there, were really special. It was exciting.”
John Seymour was awarded the Ina K award in honor of the former Goldstrikers Soccer Club (now Alaska Rush) player who passed away from Leukemia. Each team selects an athlete that shows the drive, determination, and strength of character all young soccer players should work towards.
“I felt great coming from my coach and the team,” Seymour said. “I felt like I was doing pretty good in the tournament but I really had no idea. It is a real honor to get that award, especially from your team and your coach. And I had lots of fun up there.”
The Strikers hope to attend State Cup in Anchorage this August and qualify for either the Western Regional Tournament (if finishing first) or the Presidents Cup (if finishing second). The team will be hosting Whitehorse in multiple club games on June 28-30 at either Adair Kennedy Field or Thunder Mountain Field.
The Juneau Soccer Club’s Capital City Strikers provided information for this article.