It was a strong first few months of professional life for South Georgia Tormenta FC earlier this year, led by a stellar defensive unit that put the team in the upper echelon of the new USL League One. Then things took a turn. What was once just a question of getting home field advantage come October has turned into whether or not playoffs are attainable at all. The attack is toothless, the defense has gone south, and each lost opportunity at points brings more and more pressure for results. What happened?
Things began to spiral in early July, when Tormenta was defeated on home soil for the first time all season. A mixture of draws and losses was still enough to keep South Georgia afloat, but even a good ol’ thumping of Orlando City B couldn’t kick them back into form. Tormenta would pick up the winless streak for the next month, grabbing three draws in the process. Things weren’t great, but the playoffs were still within easy reaching distance, right?
They were... until two weeks ago. That’s when the train went full speed, no breaks, off the side of a cliff. With the rest of the pack closing in, Tormenta walked into Toyota Park in Frisco, Texas with eyes for points. After all, they had held league toppers North Texas to a scoreless draw just a month earlier. This time, however, was a much different story. Tormenta FC suffered their worst defeat in any of their four years of existence, a 5-0 thrashing to a club that basically runs the U.S. Youth National Teams.
After a quick four-day turnaround, South Georgia welcomed a low ranked Richmond Kickers to Statesboro in their easiest chance to get a win in the final run of games. Much like the season as a whole, things started off fast and well for Tormenta, and a worldie of a free kick got them the lead in only the fifth minute. From there, things only got progressively worse. A quick two goals pushed Richmond ahead just ten minutes later, and nothing Tormenta did could stop Richmond from putting two more on and walking out with a 4-1 victory. Add on top of that Georgia Southern getting thumped by LSU while Georgia State beats Tennessee, and things weren’t looking too bright in Statesboro.
A grand total of nine goals conceded in less than a week seems foreign to a squad praised for their defense throughout the first half of the season. However, with an injury list longer than a CVS receipt and results becoming all the more necessary, tactical changes had to be made. At North Texas, Tormenta rolled out a new, extremely defensive formation as an attempt at damage control before the match began. This lineup would concede nearly three quarters of the possession, and once the scoring started, there was no way back in. So things changed again the next game, this time seeing two key players start out on the bench against Richmond in Charlie Dennis and Connor Antley. A likely still shell-shocked Tormenta had a rough first 45 minutes, and even bringing both players on at the half couldn’t wake the team back up.
Sports Club Stats has some very telling graphs available online, one of which shows the playoff odds for League One teams over the course of the season. You can see Tormenta’s fall from the top right in front of your eyes, like a car tumbling down a hill that you just can’t avert your eyes from as it goes lower, and lower, and lower, and… yeah. It’s the beautiful disaster of having one win in eleven matches, a streak only bested (or worsted?) by bottom feeders Toronto II and Orlando City B. The playoff odds have fallen from the high 90s to a current 18% chance at cracking the top four. Tormenta FC’s fate has not been sealed, though. With five games left to change the course, a trip to Madison, Wisconsin awaits the blue and magenta after a much needed bye week.
Playing away to Forward Madison is hard for any team. There’s the league leading crowds. The noise. The flamingos. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. But a win here would see Tormenta’s odds shoot up a massive twenty percent. Also, South Georgia was able to find a win in their previous visit, a 1-0 victory thanks to an Antley goal. Madison was able to return the favor in July, kicking off the fun winless form currently plaguing the team. Today’s match would not only decide the series between the teams, but also playoff hopes, as the league’s two bird mascots sit tied in points. Madison lies just above Tormenta, having the tiebreaker advantage for total wins. Forward’s form isn’t fantastic either, though. They’ve only managed two goals in their last five games, and previously dropped a vital result at home to the Greenville Triumph. Now, another crucial match awaits with postseason dreams on the line.
Things aren’t gonna be easy, but if Tormenta wants a shot at being crowned the first USL League One Champion, the playoffs start today in Madison.
Prediction: Forward Madison 2-1 Tormenta FC
Forward Madison FC vs. South Georgia Tormenta FC
USL League One Regular Season, Week 24
Breese Stevens Field, Madison, Wisconsin
Saturday, September 7th, 8:00 P.M. EST
Watch on ESPN+ in U.S.; YouTube internationally