The US Youth Soccer National Championships is currently having its day in Frisco. The championship bringing together the best of US Youth Soccer’s denizens is a hot-spot for undiscovered gems, quietly operating under the shadow of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and the ECNL.
In the midst of the clangor of battle, the U18 girls division entered its final group day on Thursday with plenty to be determined. The top two teams in each of the two groups in Frisco would then funnel into a final four knockout stage, but first those teams had to position themselves on Thursday.
Carlsbad Elite and Ambassadors FC entered their final day resting atop Group A, but their hold was tenuous. Carlsbad could win the group with a win or a draw, and Ambassadors needed a draw to outlast chasing Syracuse Development Academy. A loss coupled with an SDA win and Ambassadors and SDA would be level on points, and then it’s a matter of tiebreakers.
Both teams, Carlsbad and Ambassadors, needed only draws to assure advancement. And this is where it begins.
— Livster (@TheLivster59) July 28, 2016
What you’re seeing is a dual effort by these two sides to sit on the match for a draw toward the end of the match. And so they went, laggardly passing around the back and occasionally lofting a long ball so the opposing side could do the same. The match, unsurprisingly then, ended a quiet 0-0 under the withering heat in Texas. Both teams advanced to the semifinals. Syracuse DA, which won its final match 4-1, trudged home for all its effort.
As an aside, we’re not saying the match was rigged beforehand or that anything overtly nefarious was intended here. But the match factors – the heat and the group standings primarily – certainly led both to slow down considerably as the match wore on, which was clearly not in Syracuse’s benefit.
As for the full match video (US Youth Soccer streams and archives all of its national championship matches) it would appear to be private.
UPDATE: Here’s a full comment from Ambassadors coach Caleb Fortune:
“Both teams were through pretty much, so there was nothing to play for. Earlier in the day, there had been 18 people collapsed due to the heat. Just at the start of the game, we never fixed the result because we didn’t have to. There was nothing there to play for. We just told our players, if the other team has the ball at the back, just don’t press them. There’s no reason to run around and kill yourselves during this event.
“If you watch the start the players were kind of going back and forth and there was a couple of shots. As the game went on, they stopped pressing and kind of asked what’s the point of running? There’s no reason to do it. I do understand that in terms of the event, you have to play the game. But the result was meaningless. We weren’t match fixing.
“The tiebreaker is goals against. So the only way we would’ve gone out is if we would’ve lost 4-0 and 5-0. And the thing with Carlsbad, because they were already through, their leading scorer wasn’t even playing. The beginning of the game was normal. We don’t know Carlsbad at all, but why would they risk this to go through on some match fixing thing?
“In terms of the circumstances, if you look at the other groups, Tennessee won their group and they lost a game 3-0 (on Thursday), and they were resting players. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In the heat of the day I don’t think they have to run around and do all that stuff.
“In terms of our game itself, I think we were respectful to the other team in terms of them going through, and I think they were respectful to us. And that was pretty much it.”
UPDATE: A statement from Carlsbad Director of Coaching Michael Duggan and U18 coach Courtney Drummond.
“Going into Thursday’s match against Ambassadors FC, our approach was to sit in and let the opponent come to us. Contrary to what has been reported, the result of the game had no impact on whether or not we would advance, so there was no tactical reason for us to go on the offensive and chase the game. Additionally, it should be noted that the only outcome that would have effected the group standings in any way at that point in time would have been a 5-0 win for our team.
“Playing a low pressure style was in our best interest looking ahead to the semi-final to help preserve our players physically for the next match, having already played two 90 minute games in the extreme heat. Given that the opponent simply had to get out of the game without losing 5-0, they also clearly took a more conservative tactical approach to ensure their place in the next round.
“We understand that the way this game played out was not typical of the level of play one would expect to see in a competitive environment, however it demonstrates two teams, both taking a conservative approach to the game to protect their advantage and there was no collusion between the teams. Both teams performed well in their previous matches, and as a result, were both afforded a position where we could advance to the semis without having to take significant risks in the final bracket game.
“Our ultimate goal in coming to this tournament has always been to win a National Championship. We are no stranger to this tournament having qualified to compete in the National Championships the past four consecutive years, which is a testament to the quality of our players, coaches and organization. It’s unfortunate that the integrity of our team has been called into question. We are honored to have earned a place in the semi-finals after winning our bracket and we look forward to competing in that game this weekend.”