For the final time in 2019, it’s a Tormenta FC gameday in Statesboro. The inaugural season of USL League One comes full circle tonight, ending exactly as it began with South Georgia and Greenville Triumph battling it out at Erk Russell Park. That first meeting was one for the history books: a capacity crowd, a brand new league, and a special first goal and win for Tormenta. There really couldn’t have been a much better start to South Georgia’s first professional season.
From that match, Tormenta would go on to pick up a second win, and after a rough road stretch, rebounded back into form and at times held the first place spot over the eventual regular season champion North Texas SC. Then came summer, and the start of Tormenta FC 2 in the rebranded USL League Two. Like their professional counterparts, Twomenta would get off to a fantastic start, knocking pro side Chattanooga Red Wolves from the U.S. Open Cup in their first match. The summer team made up of college and academy players would claim back to back Deep South Division titles for the Tormenta franchise, and reached as far as a thrilling National Semifinal with Reading United AC. After the season, three players- Jordan Skelton, Kobe Perez, and JJ Donnelly- would sign pro contracts in League One, the first two with Tormenta and Donnelly with Greenville.
But as Tormenta 2 navigated its way through the playoffs, Tormenta FC was slowly slipping away from their own playoff dreams. A first home loss in early July to Forward Madison FC began a downward spiral that would prove difficult to stop, peaking in late August with two heavy defeats that combined for a 1-9 scoreline. Tormenta would also face the saga that was Lucas Coutinho’s injury, a nightmarish goalkeeper collision that saw Lucas airlifted to an ICU and an incredible show of global support that put the sport into an entirely different perspective. However, the playoff hopes would continue to fade through a streak of 1 win in 15 matches, and Tormenta’s fate was finally sealed last week in a 1-0 loss to Toronto FC II.
How did we get here? Why the drastic downfall from nearly 100% playoff odds to none? I’ve identified a few factors that I think are responsible for the cliff dive that was the second half of the 2019 Tormenta season:
- Tormenta FC’s blazing hot start was due to the immediate chemistry the team had. Entering its fourth year of existence, Tormenta’s professional switch was a lot less drastic than some of the other teams that were starting from scratch. South Georgia was able to treat 2018 as a successful test run for 2019, and returned eleven players for its first pro season. These players did not need to go through any introduction like the other teams and created a group that was able to welcome other players into the team quicker than a completely new roster would. With that, the team was able to hit the ground running, while other new teams were still attempting to build the bond within the team. However, once the other teams had begun to gel halfway through the season, problems arose for Tormenta, who no longer held that advantage over their opponents.
- The injury bug hit and hit hard for South Georgia Tormenta. Early on was starting defender and captain Lars Eckenrode’s match saving goal that led to a season ending injury. Soon afterwards came Chris Hellmann, whose injury eventually ended his Tormenta career. Four weeks into the season, and already two starting players were gone. More would be on the horizon: Nil Vinyals has just returned from an August injury, Michael O’Sullivan had a season ending surgery, Kaleb Jackson has been out for multiple weeks, and Lucas Coutinho’s dramatic injury only added to the long Tormenta injury report.
- While Tormenta built a strong, solid defensive foundation, the offense was lacking in terms of firepower. While there have been times of fantastic, fluid counterattacks creating scoring chances, the two scoring leaders in the squad are Marco Micaletto, a midfielder, and Conner Antley, a defensive wingback. The production from forwards was not there, making any trailing score lines difficult to climb out of. Even mid-season loanee Shinya Kadono was unable to provide a spark in the attack and get goals flowing.
While some may look forward to wrapping the season up, there is no better final opponent for Tormenta FC than the Greenville Triumph. This matchup will be an insane FIFTH meeting of the year, and just the second to happen in Georgia. Greenville leads the series 2-1-1, and was responsible for knocking Tormenta out of their first U.S. Open Cup match as a pro side. While South Georgia is eliminated from playoff contention, Greenville has clinched their spot, and still have important factors to be decided in the final matchday of the season. Should the Triumph win in Statesboro and Lansing Ignite lose to Forward Madison, Greenville will jump into second and earn home field advantage in at least the semifinal. Opposite of Tormenta, Greenville found themselves sitting as low as eighth place in mid-June, and have since crept their way up the table. Losing their key goalscorer Jake Keegan for the rest of the year last month looked to be a hard blow for the Triumph, but the team has bounced back with huge results. Players like Carlos Gomez and Cameron Saul have stepped up in a big way to fill the void, and former Tormenta 2 striker JJ Donnelly finds himself getting plenty of minutes up top. Partner that with Goalkeeper of the Year contender Dallas Jaye and a superb defense that leads the league in clean sheets, and Greenville seems like a strong contender once the playoffs begin, despite last weeks shocking home loss to Orlando City B.
While the 2019 season didn’t go exactly as planned for South Georgia Tormenta FC, there is still much to be thankful for. A wild dream of professional soccer deep in football-crazed Georgia came true, and fans were entertained by not one, but two great squads who represented South Georgia beyond well. We don’t yet know who might return for next season, or who might get the opportunity to raise themselves to a higher level of the game, but no matter the future for the players, memories of Pablo Jara penalty saves or bombing runs from Conner Antley won’t soon be forgotten in Statesboro. With a new season, a new stadium, and more great things awaiting us all, it is important to remember that the story does not end here. Tormenta FC will be back before you know it, even better than before, and ready to take on the league once again.
Prediction: Tormenta FC 1-1 Greenville Triumph
South Georgia Tormenta FC (8-9-10, 7th) vs. Greenville Triumph SC (12-8-7, 3rd)
USL League One Regular Season, Week 28
Erk Russell Park, Statesboro, Georgia
Saturday, October 5th, 2019, 8:00 P.M. EST