Welcome back y’all. It feels it’s been a while. After a two week break, Tormenta FC returns to action today, kicking off the second half of its inaugural pro season at home against Forward Madison. We’ve been treated to some great (and not so great) soccer in the meantime, but we now get another match to add to the insane soccer weekend that is upon us. This match luckily falls before the slate of national team finals and full-Benz madness on Sunday, but don’t think of it as an appetizer. This match has more in it than a Wings and Things meal from Zaxby’s.
As we’ve hit the mid-season point, I’d like to give some recognition to some of the top performers and moments of the season so far:
MVP: Conner Antley
This is a pretty easy choice, and one that USL League One seems to agree with me on. Antley, playing as a right wing back, is tied for team leader in goals, and has sole rights for the most assists. He gets it done on the defensive side, too, playing a role in a league leading defense that has earned 8 clean sheets. Antley has earned a spot on the League One Team of the Week 4 times so far, with one Player of the Week and one Player of the Month.
Best Goal: Morrell vs. Greenville, 3/29
It might seem kind of basic to choose this as the best goal of the first half of the season, but hear me out. The buildup to this goal is nothing short of incredible: the touches, the give and go, the dribble, the perfect pass, the finish. The historic nature of the goal is just the icing on the cake, and makes it my goal of the season so far.
For any soccer player abroad, having your family travel to see you play makes a game special in itself. To then score in that game and celebrate with your family? That’s about as wholesome as it gets. This scenario has played out not once, but twice so far this season with Marco Micaletto against Tucson on April 3rd, then Mikie Rowe against Orlando City B on June 15th. It doesn’t get much better than that.
In the more official awards, Conner Antley and Pablo Jara picked up Midseason Defender and Goalkeeper of the Year honors from the league.
While Tormenta FC has been preparing for the stretch of games ahead, Tormenta 2 in USL League Two has been putting on a show as their regular season comes to an end. They’ve managed to reclaim the top spot in the Deep South Division after an insane game that saw a 60-plus yard game winner to win 3-2 over Dalton while down to 10 men. I mean, just look at it:
A dominant 3-0 win over former leaders SC United and 1-0 and 4-1 wins over Peachtree City and Discoveries SC leave them in a postseason position with just two games left to play.
Looking back to two weeks ago, Tormenta could have very easily entered the bye week in a different mood after the match against the Richmond Kickers. While the defense was in control throughout the game, continuing the shutout streak of over 500 minutes, the offense struggled to find a foothold. There was not a shot on target from either side until Marco Micaletto was flung down in the penalty area and converted from 12 yards in the 83rd minute. The win temporarily moved Tormenta up to first place in the standings, only to be regained by North Texas over the bye week. Tormenta now sits four points behind the leaders, but has a game in hand.
That’s not a terribly bad spot to be in halfway through the year, but that’s exactly the issue- it’s only halfway. The focus must continue into the next 14 games not only to have a shot at first place, but to avoid the danger lurking below, as there are only four playoff spots for a lot of talented sides. Things can get started back up in a good way tonight against the Flamingos from Madison.
This will be Madison’s only time visiting Statesboro this season, but the two teams have met before back in May up in Wisconsin. There, Tormenta was able to escape with a 1-0 victory after Conner Antley converted on a corner. That game lacked Don Smart and Paulo Jr., some of Forward Madison’s offensive starters, for the majority of play, so the South Georgia defense was not able to get a full taste of what they could get tonight.
While they are currently ranked 8th, Forward has shown potential to be much higher in the table, especially in their recent matches. They’ve scored seven goals in their last three matches, and thumped the league leaders North Texas in a massive 4-1 result. This will be a much greater defensive test for Tormenta than Richmond was, and we can only watch to see if their carefully crafted shutout streak will come down at the hands of the Flamingos. Thinking back to the last post-bye week match against Orlando City B, Tormenta was slow out of the gates, and Orlando was able to create some good chances before the Blue and Magenta were able to regain control. Madison scored the quickest goal in League One history at just 45 seconds back in Week 12, so whichever team can control the start of the game might get a leg up.
On their way down south, Madison picked up a couple additions on loan from USL Championship side Memphis 901 FC. Louis Bennett and Oliver White both joined last week, and could see their first League One action in Statesboro. White made three appearances with Memphis this year, and could be a threat off the bench as a striker for the Flamingos.
In Tormenta’s favor, Forward ranks last in the league for clean sheets, recording just one in a 0-0 draw with Greenville back in April. This could be another favorable matchup for the Tormenta offense to find some form and put its struggles behind. If the offense can click, we could have a very nice evening in Statesboro. If not, the shutout streak and undefeated home record could be in jeopardy.
Prediction: Tormenta FC 2-1 Forward Madison
South Georgia Tormenta FC vs. Forward Madison FC
USL League One Regular Season
Erk Russell Park, Statesboro, Georgia
Saturday, July 6th, 8:00 P.M. EST
Watch on ESPN+ in U.S.; YouTube internationally