Statesboro, GA- Here we are Tormenta Nation. The season finale of the inaugural USL League One season. This league in its’ first year was everything it was promised, we have seen high-class players, future national team stars, rollercoaster matches, heartbreaking defeats, and massive victories. This ride has been a whirlwind for Tormenta and their fans. Tormenta started the first four months of the season consistently looking like one of the two best teams in this newborn league. The team looked strong, built on the backs of a lockdown backline and the brick wall that is Pablo Jara. Tormenta was not always the flashiest team going forward, but they played a tough, physical brand of football that other teams feared.
Until the injury bug hit and hit and hit and hit. Once the summer started rolling on and on, it seemed every week Tormenta was trying to plug holes left by an injured star player. Lars Eckenrode, the squad’s original captain, has not played due to concussion issues sustained against Orlando City B back on April 14th. Goalkeeper Micah Bledsoe sustained a meniscus injury before the season even began, putting a lot more minutes on the back of Pablo Jara. Mike O’Sullivan has been fighting injuries that have limited his playtime at left-back all season. Nil Vinyals fell victim to a knee injury midsummer when Tormenta needed him most. Lastly, Lucas Coutinho suffered a horrific head injury that has kept him out for the final third of the season. All these players listed and others who have been in and out due to injuries have shown how important and needed depth is over the course of an eight-month season.
Back to tonight’s season finale, Tormenta faces off with the same team they faced off with Matchday 1 and rival, Greenville Triumph. The two teams have faced off 3 times in league play and once in the US Open Cup and Tormenta has gone 1-2-1 across the four matches. The three matches that did not end in a draw, the winning team won the match 1-0. Why is that? Why are both teams so tight on the pitch but sit 8 points apart and 4 positions on the table apart from each other? Let’s discuss.
Defense First: Both these teams bring out the best in each other, and that is their defenses. Through the first four months of the season, Greenville scored more than one goal only once. Hearing this, you could easily expect the Triumph to be struggling in the league but that was not the case. The team had 15 points through 11 matches and was sitting with a record of 3-4-4. Greenville over the last four matches has scored three or more goals three times and won all three of those matches. Tormenta is actually one of three teams that Greenville has not been able to put up 2+ goals on in a match (the other two are Richmond and Forward). Greenville’s record against these three teams is 3-3-3, so clearly these teams have figured something out that the other six teams have not. In tonight’s match, you can expect the usual when it comes to these matchups, Tormenta and Greenville will sit firmly when being pressured and whoever gets the first goal in this match will be in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the time. Even through Tormenta’s skid here at the end of the season, they have held teams to only one goal 7 of 11 times.
Solid Goalkeepers: Another similarity between these two squads is the man between the posts for both. Dallas Jaye and Pablo Jara have been two of the most consistent goalkeepers in the league for their squads. When these two keepers are playing well, their teams usually do well. Dallas Jaye is going to finish this season first for the Golden Glove with 13 clean sheets. Jaye also leads USL League One with the best GAA (goals allowed average) at .69, meaning he is conceding significantly less than one goal per 90 minutes. No one is shocked that Jaye has been great this season, the Guam National Team keeper has made what should be impossible saves look possible. But, so has Tormenta’s Pablo Jara. Jara has won Save of the Month, Save of the week (8x), and won Midseason Goalkeeper of the Year. These two keepers control their teams from in between the posts and bring a sense of calm when everyone else seems to be worried.
Injury Bug Bites All: Tormenta is not the only club who has been bitten hard by the injury bug. Tormenta’s rival has been bitten just as hard by the annoying injury bug. Injuries have struck Greenville just as hard, including Max Hemmings and leading goal-scorer Jake Keegan who leads their squad in goals scored with 9. This has required other players in the Greenville roster to step up and fill the holes left by these two star players. This includes ex-Tormenta 2 player, JJ Donnelly, who has found himself getting significant playtime in the Greenville lineup. Keep an eye on the combination of Donnelly and Saul up top who will hope to give Tormenta issues all night.
This match still carries important playoff implications for Greenville. IF Tormenta can knock off their rivals, they will prevent Greenville from hosting a playoff match and will likely have to travel to Lansing for their first-round matchup. I cannot think of a better way to end off a difficult season than sending Greenville back home without any points.
Tormenta FC vs. Greenville Triumph SC
Erk Russell Park, Statesboro, Ga.
Saturday, October 5th. 8:00 PM.
Watch on ESPN+ or on YouTube internationally.