Louisiana teams fizzle at US Youth Soccer tournament

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Mandeville's Danielle Sabathe (9), left, makes the kick in front of Oklahoma's Erin Eckart (9) in the Region III tournament semifinals.  Oklahoma FC 96 2, Mandeville Lakers 95/96 1 Buy this photo
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Mandeville's Danielle Sabathe (9), left, makes the kick in front of Oklahoma's Erin Eckart (9) in the Region III tournament semifinals. Oklahoma FC 96 2, Mandeville Lakers 95/96 1

Oscar Hernandez stared out at his Mandeville Lakers Under-18 girls club as the overtime minutes dragged on.

After playing three games in four days, the Lakers 95/96 girls ran step-for-step with former regional champion Oklahoma FC 96 for 119 minutes in the 85-degree Louisiana sun.

The quarterfinals matchup was a true test of wills.

“It was incredibly difficult,” said Mike Ortner, the Lakers assistant coach. “The heat is brutal. Both teams were struggling, and we knew it was going to come down to one team getting that little look.”

But with roughly a minute remaining before the second overtime period expired, Oklahoma drilled a penalty kick into the back of the net, sealing the Lakers’ fate and ending their tournament run with a 2-1 loss.

Hernandez said trying to keep the girls from wearing out was the most difficult challenge. Once players were substituted out, they were unable to return for the remainder of the half.

Considering Mandeville played with a shortened bench — the squad had been missing three players since before the tournament kicked off — the Lakers coach said he was happy with the effort his girls gave.

“You just keep it positive at that point, and you have a lot of players that are going on, whether they’re playing college soccer or not,” Ortner said. “Just thank them for their service to the club. There’s no need to rehash how bad it hurts to lose the game in the way they did.”

Hernandez said the tournament experience was one his girls would carry with them as they move on to college and beyond.

“I am extremely proud of the work we put in,” Hernandez said. “At this age level, it’s very difficult to keep them because they have so much going on in their lives.

“We came in one game at a time, and to advance (to the quarterfinals) was a great thing for us. It was a good experience for them.”

Playing at the same time on an adjacent field, coach Willie Davis’ BRSC CSC 96 Alliance Under-18 girls club fought to be the final Baton Rouge-area team remaining in the Region III Championships.

The 96 Alliance’s misfortune began early, though.

After a controversial foul call in the first three minutes of the game, the opposing NASA 14 Elite team was awarded a direct free kick, leading to the first goal of the contest.

“We weren’t very good,” Davis said. “I thought our defenders were pretty good, but I thought the rest of us didn’t show up, and you can’t not show up in a quarterfinal.”

The opposing Georgia squad scored again in the second half after setting up a mismatch — the Elite managed to get the ball behind the 96 Alliance, leaving only three of Davis’ girls to defend before drilling its second goal of the contest.

The contest concluded with a 2-0 final score, eliminating the final Baton Rouge team from the tournament.

“They have to understand that they’ve accomplished a lot,” Davis said. “On the other side of it, a lot of these kids are going to play in college, and they have to understand that you have to be able to rise to every occasion. The next level is about winning and losing. In college soccer, coaches want to keep their jobs.”

Only one Louisiana team remains after three other clubs lost Tuesday. The 96 LA Fire Navy under-18 boys lost 2-1 to the CESA 95 Premier team from South Carolina. The Louisiana Fire Red 97 under-17 boys squad also lost 2-1 to FC Dallas Youth 97 Premier.

Finally, the Crossroads Pride from Alexandria fell to theConcorde Fire Elite from Georgia 2-0 in the under-19 boys semifinals.

The remaining Louisiana club, the 97 Louisiana Fire Navy under-17 girls team from New Orleans, will play its semifinal match at 10 a.m. Wednesday after winning its quarterfinal game 2-1 on Tuesday morning.