BY NICK JOHNSON
Even the highest caliber of play in this sport can be on par with the entertainment and intensity on display Sunday in the Charleston Soccer League Division 3 Men’s Club Semifinals.
Each of the four teams vying for a spot in the Championship — the Surf Bar Plague Rats, the Vintage Old Peculiars, The Tattooed Moose (aka “The Force“) and The Roost — proved that there is a competitive edge to matches at the amateur level. Cards were issued and players sent off as each team tried to claw their way into the finals.
The two matches were played simultaneously on adjacent fields at Bayview Soccer Complex on James Island, with Surf Bar taking on Vintage Old Peculiars and The Force — wtith Star Wars character names on their jerseys — playing The Roost. Both games featured players capable of making great passes and runs, as well as the innate ability to complain to the officiating staff.
Surf Bar Plague Rats vs. Vintage Old Peculiars
The difference in the ages of the players in the Surf Bar Plague Rats vs. Vintage Old Peculiars match made for fascinating viewing. Vintage, an appropriate name, features players with significant pedigrees, with several former players from the Battery and other USL clubs. Clark Brisson, the Battery’s first signed player and the current coach of the South Carolina United Battery Academy, was among their ranks.
Surf Bar, on the other hand, was led by semi-coach and semi-player Bradley Simmons, and comprised a smattering of Charleston locals who enjoy playing the game.
Vintage walked away with a fortunate 2-1 victory after a penalty kick scored by Leo Garcia with two minutes left in the second half. Vintage failed to hold possession most of the match, but made good use of their ability to play long balls. The team’s retired talent cannot run fast for long, but still can play great passes in. Surf Bar, on the other hand, held possession for most of the game but struggled to finish their chances. A missed a penalty kick in the first half that smacked off the upright might have changed the match in Surf Bar’s favor, but too many missed opportunities cost them in the end.
Vintage struck first with a Michael Webber goal. Surf Bar rebounded with great enthusiasm as they started to knock the ball around more freely and equalized at the end of the first half. The second half looked almost identical to the first, with Vintage playing long balls to their forwards and Surf Bar running circles around them. An off-sides call stopped the only would-be goal by Surf Bar late in the second half, and with two minutes remaining, Surf Bar gave up what appeared to be a soft penalty the set up the winning score.
Simmons said Surf Bar is more than unlucky, “It’s typical,” he said. “We go undefeated all season and then get beat by a penalty kick. I’m pretty sure we’re cursed.”
The Force vs. The Roost
The Roost earned its way to the finals with a 2-1 overtime win. The teams were evenly matched and play was end-to-end for much of the game.
The Roost came out strong and took the early lead of an amazing free kick by Scott Busbee that found the upper corner of the goal. But play picked up as The Force found their legs and started to extend their possessions. The Force’s Mike Merilli scored an equalizer that gave his team a needed boost as they saw it out to the half.
At the beginning of the second half a Roost player was sent off due to a second yellow card. But the 10 remaining Roost players held their own held their own until full time, and found the winning score in overtime.
Even after all the yelling, tussling, cautions and disputes, most of the players were friendly towards each other, and the majority headed off to The Smoky Oak Taproom to have a post-game beer.
“Everyone yells and screams at one another,” said Simmons. “We hate each other on the field but we’re all friends after the game. It’s kinda like Fight Club, but with beer after.”
The Vintage Old Peculiars and The Roost will meet in a championship match at a place and time yet to be scheduled.
TOP IMAGE: Yoda, I Am of Tattooed Moose (aka “The Force”) holds his ground as The Roost launches an attack. Nick Johnson photos.