As South Georgia Tormenta FC enters the final quarter of the inaugural USL League One season, the finish line is starting to come into view. However, it is no longer the same clear cut path towards the postseason that it seemed just a few months ago. After sitting comfortably among the league leaders nearly all year, Tormenta finds itself stuck in a rough patch that has the rest of the league creeping in on the coveted playoff spots. Can Tormenta keep its head above the line in the home stretch?
The past two months haven’t been forgiving for South Georgia. Since Week 13, a single win came from league punching bag Orlando City B, who have since been the first team eliminated from playoff contention back in Week 20. As Tormenta tries to turn its form around, it faces a true test of playoff worthiness. The remaining eight opponents on the schedule have an average position in the standings of 4.5. Strong performances in these last games will prove that Tormenta really does have one of the four best squads in League One, and a hot streak going into a quick playoff would be almost crucial.
Last Saturday, Tormenta kicked off a three game home stretch with FC Tucson, hoping to find their way back into the win column. Things took a disastrous turn early in the 9th minute, however. After securing a cross, Tormenta goalkeeper Pablo Jara sent a punt over the Tucson defenders as midfielder Lucas Coutinho made a run in behind. With pressure on his back from the defenders, Coutinho sprinted ahead, while Tucson goalkeeper Carlos Merancio Valdez rushed out from his box to clear the ball. The two collided and went down immediately with head injuries, and soon the on-site ambulance was on the field assisting the trainers. Coutinho was then taken to an airlift transport to Savannah, where he has stayed in a Neuro-ICU.
Since Saturday, Coutinho and Tormenta have been shown immense support both from the league and even around the world. Teams and supporters groups have expressed their thoughts and well wishes to the player, his family, and his teammates. The league office has flown in Lucas’s parents from Brazil, and has Senior Vice President Steven Short in town as well. One message came from Marcelo Cirino, a player for Athletico Paranaense in Brazil’s Serie A, who offered words of support for his fellow countryman. A rough Google translation says:
Speaking to Lucas Coutinho here is Marcelo Cirino, player for Club Atletico Paranaense. Lucas, I’m going to leave this message to you, my friend. May God bless you and may you recover as soon as possible, and that you too can be back on the field soon. Thanks, God bless you. Be with God, my friend.
Message of support for @coutinholucas10 from Marcelo Cirino of Athletico Paranaense in Brazil. Pure Class! @Tormenta_FC @USLLeagueOne #LoveForLucas pic.twitter.com/0eS4hJcpNM— Tormenta FC (@Tormenta_FC) August 20, 2019
After 16 minutes of stoppage, the match got back underway, although with a very different atmosphere. Tormenta continued to show improvement on the offensive side of the ball, firing off double-digit shots for the second straight game. Tormenta 2 call up Jordan Skelton also received his first professional start and appearance all at once, and performed well. However, a defensive breakdown late in the second half saw two tackles that could have been called penalties in favor of Tucson. The referee’s whistle blew for the second one, and Jordan Jones converted from the spot. Tormenta turned up the pressure, desperate to not fall at home again. The pressure paid off very late into stoppage time with a penalty of Tormenta’s own after some physicality on a corner kick. It was Marco Micaletto’s turn from the spot, and he also finished his penalty to end the match tied at one.
A midweek clash with Chattanooga awaits South Georgia, a rescheduling of the June 8th match that was postponed due to weather. The Red Wolves were in Statesboro not even two weeks ago, in a closely fought affair that saw them defeat the home team 2-1. In hot form, the Red Wolves then hosted a recently sputtering league leader in North Texas. The FC Dallas B side put up a strong fight, though, and left Chattanooga with a 2-0 win, dominating offensively with 20 shots. Now sitting in fourth, the Red Wolves lie just underneath third place Tormenta, tied on points but with an extra game played. Stakes are high in this match, as a loss for either team would open a door to drop down to as far as sixth place if results go Greenville and Madison’s ways.
Chattanooga will be helped by the return of captain Steven Beattie, coming back after serving a suspension in the last game. Well rested, the striker will be a key threat to watch for in the Red Wolves attack. He’ll be helped by Vangjel Zguro, who is currently second in the league in assists, and Greg Hurst, a recent signing who has been getting more minutes in each match since joining the team. Tormenta, on the other hand, will be battling an injury problem made worse after Saturday’s match. Three players who would presumably start are out on long term injuries: Eckenrode since April, Vinyals out from the Greenville game three weeks ago, and most recently Coutinho. O’Sullivan also remains on the injury list following surgery. Meanwhile, the Red Wolves miss out on key midfielder Conor Doyle through a one game suspension.
Can Tormenta’s offensive improvements finally translate into goals? They’ve been able to get shots off, but accuracy must improve if they are to see success in the attack. Coming up against Chattanooga keeper Alex Mangels, the league leader in saves, it won’t be easy for them. As the team rallies around their injured teammate, Tormenta will need a better showing than in recent matches in order to stay in a top four spot.
Chattanooga Red Wolves:
Prediction: Tormenta FC 1-1 Chattanooga Red Wolves
South Georgia Tormenta FC vs. Chattanooga Red Wolves SC
USL League One Regular Season, Week 22
Erk Russell Park, Statesboro, Georgia
Wednesday, August 21, 8:00 P.M. EST
Watch on ESPN+ in U.S.; YouTube internationally