Since our league began, we’ve always had the #1 and #2 teams in U8 and higher play in a championship game at the end of each season. The kids really enjoyed it and it gave them something to work towards at the end of the season. But as our league grew, our divisions became more competitive and sometimes it was clear that teams landing at #3 or lower in the standing were peaking and would have given the top two a serious run.

Well, this season the league officers decided to try something new. We decided to hold a single elimination tournament for each age division that keeps score (U8 and up). This gives even the last place teams a shot at the title. None of us really knew how it would turn out – would the top two teams make it for the most part? Would the kids handle the added pressure?

Well we just finished up our semifinal round and all I can say is WOW. What a great day of soccer for our young league!

Things started out a bit dicey as the weather forecast kept talking about chances of thunderstorms and rain and it seemed to change hourly. Well, we avoided any match ending lightening, but man was it windy! A ball rolling along the pitch that would have stopped in a few feet would catch a gust and take off like a shot! but I digress.

Needless to say it was a day of upsets. In U8, my son’s team which placed 4th in the regular season standings faced the #1 team which has been strong every season. They have excellent and experienced coaches and a good set of players. But my son’s team has been improving with every game – they really seemed to be peaking as the season ended, pulling out ties with the eventual #2 and #3 teams. They had played the #1 team in their first regular season match and lost 2-1. It’s common for our team to play and about 50% to 75% of the kids are really in it and the rest are there but don’t have their ‘A’ game. Its rec soccer and they’re 7 and 8. Thats normal. Well, we were just floored – every single one of our players came ready to play their best and boy did they ever. They took off from the opening whistle and never let up. Martinho’s fought hard and their defense was excellent. The weather was wild – we went from rain tapering off at the start to sunny, to wind, to more rain, and more wind. But we managed to get in two goals (one of which hit a post, bounced up to the crossbar, and bounced of the goalies back into the net – sight to see) and our defense was a wall holding them scoreless. It was one of the most exciting games I’d been involved in and the kids had a ball. So here is a proud Dad who can’t wait to see how they do in the Championship against the #3 team which knocked off #2.

But the real excitement came in the older divisions. In U10, the #6 team held the #3 team scoreless and they held on for a 3-2 shootout win after THREE shootout rounds. There were some breathtaking saves by both keepers too (diving corner shot deflections, etc.) But this wasn’t the biggest upset. The last place team (#7) in the division, with a record of 0-8-0, held the #2 team scoreless as well. After 10 minutes of overtime, this match also went to a shootout. The #7 team had a very good keeper, but most spectators wondered about their shooters. Everyones jaw dropped when one of the smallest kids on the team walked up and drilled a shot into the back of the net, followed by another player not known for their leg who did the same thing. It was a great thing to witness and the #7 team won that match with a 2-0 shootout advantage.

Complete details can be found on our website. But all I can say is wow. We didn’t know how well a tournament would work and how the parents and players would handle it. Yes, we had some kids in tears after losing and the pressure on the keepers was pretty intense with the shootouts. But even parents from the losing teams commented on how fun the tournament had been so far and that while it is tough on kids to lose a tournament game, they need to learn about dealing with loss while the winners need to learn about sportsmanship. I couldn’t agree more. Perfect example. When my son’s match ended with the final whistle, our kids were jumping up and down screaming, etc. The coaches (there are 4 of us) immediately told the kids to calm down and to think how they would feel if they had lost and the other team was going crazy. We told them the time to celebrate was later and to line up like always and shake hands with the other team. Watching it dawn on them (rather quickly I might add), we were so impressed to see them immediately settle down and shake hands with the other team. It was a great lesson for them, one I hope sticks. We don’t want them to not feel good about their hard fought win – of course we do. But seeing them grasp at that age that maybe it would be better to celebrate with the parents later was impressive.

So what can I say – I was absolutely thrilled at how our semi final rounds went. The matches were exciting, the parents really enjoyed themselves, and even with gusting winds and plummeting temperatures, people were very positive and very excited as the last match wrapped up around 8:30 (delayed thanks to the shootouts and overtimes) I had to line judge the last three games – boy I slept good that night!

So I’m looking forward to the championship round next weekend. Not just because my son is playing (and I’m VERY proud) but because our league managed to put together something that really struck a positive chord with our parents and players. I expect the end of season tournament will become a fixture for us. I’ll let you know how it goes.