The response from 15U Boys PPA KSA 04 Pro-Profile (GA) was almost as impressive as the result.
Down two goals early to 2018 National finalist Real Jersey FC (NJ), the Georgia side turned the tide of the match and fought back to earn a 3-2 win to open Group A action at the 2019 US Youth Soccer National Championships, presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods.
It wasn’t the first time PPA KSA coach Borfor Carr saw his team battle back from a multi-goal deficit, as it did the same last month at the US Youth Soccer Southern Regional Championships. But the coach said to do it on this stage against a team of Real Jersey’s quality tells a lot about his players.
“It’s a huge confidence booster to beat a team like this,” said Carr, whose team watched replays of last year’s Championship final, in which they thought Real Jersey controlled the game despite coming up short of the title.
“This was our first game, and the boys talked about this throughout our preparation to come here. They knew Real Jersey was the team to compete against to open.”
The Georgia side had every reason to fall mentally out of the game after a first 10 minutes thoroughly controlled by Real Jersey.
The New Jersey side jumped in front after seven minutes of play when Joseph Cino got to the end line and squared a ball to the center of the box, where Cade McGrath ran onto the ball and hammered his shot under the bar for the opening goal.
Immediately after, Milton Jones doubled the lead through individual work on the left flank — where he troubled PPA KSA for much of the match. Jones cut inside and crushed a right-footed curling shot that dipped off the keeper’s fingertips and into the far upper-90 — pushing the Real Jersey lead to 2-0 after just eight minutes of play.
Despite the quick start from Real Jersey, the Georgia side remained positive and focused, and it slowly started to gain some traction moving forward.
“It shows a lot of character for the kids,” Carr said. “This is what I want from them. It’s not just about kicking a soccer ball. We’re trying to build them to learn discipline and to know it’s not over until it’s over, so they just keep playing until the very end.”
The climb back into the game started when PPA KSA drew a foul in the box to earn a penalty kick in the 26th minute. Geordi Ngartoubam converted the attempt, as he placed his shot inside the right post to cut the KSA’s deficit to 2-1.
The start of the second half provided a role reversal, as the Georgia side came out attacking. Emanuel Michael made a diagonal run and received a perfectly placed pass that allowed him to get behind the defense with his first touch. Michael held off a couple defenders before sliding his shot past the keeper to level the score at 2-2.
The deadlock didn’t last long, as Michael Kalombe used some individual determination to slip between a Real Jersey defender and the keeper before heading a bouncing ball into the net — putting PPA KSA up, 3-2.
Real Jersey created some chances as it looked to pull back even, including a close call in the 62nd minute that saw a volley off of a corner kick ring off the back post. In the end, the Georgia side held on to earn the full three points and take its place atop Group A after the opening day of preliminary play in Overland Park, Kan.
PPA KSA captain John Perez said his team’s close bond helps it stay positive and be able to stay in any game — no matter the score — as it did to open the National Championships.
“The win is very important because the first game sets the mood for the rest of the tournament,” Perez said. “If we push the team forward and we communicate, help each other and play calm, we can do what we know we can do.”