It was long day for the Columbia Darby, but after winning three games yesterday the defending U.S. Youth Soccer Region I under-15 champs looked no worse for the wear.
Yesterday started with a 4-0 victory over New York's Hudson Storm and then a 2-0 decision over the Middletown (N.J.) Arsenal in preliminary-round U-16 play in the Columbia Invitational Soccer Tournament at Howard Community College. The victories earned the Darby a berth in this afternoon's semifinals, regardless of how they fare in this morning's final group game against the Syracuse Blitz.
Then last night, Columbia blanked the 1992 Region I U-14 titlist, Pittsburgh's Penns Forest Scotties, 2-0, in a match at Howard High School that started with the teams verbally challenging each other and ended with a pair of on-field scuffles.
The Darby seemed undaunted by the prospect of playing six games in three days should they advance to tomorrow morning's championship match.
"That's why we're together, to play. And most of us enjoy it," said Darby midfielder Cory Piette.
The semifinals and final could both prove interesting for the Darby. In the semis, they could meet the Olney Internationals, their opponent in next weekend's Maryland Cup U-16 final, should the Internationals beat the Parsippany (N.J.) Thunder in their first game this morning.
And Darby players said they relished a possible rematch with the Penns Forest Scotties in the Columbia tournament final.
"Before the game they said they were going to beat our butts and beat us 5-0," said Darby midfielder Robert Landolt, who scored Columbia's second goal.
"At the end, they might have gotten a little frustrated and it got a little physical. I guess it was kind of friendly, but I would definitely like to play them again."
In all, the tournament's first day consisted of 250 games &L involving 248 teams and approximately 4,000 youths from 16 states and Canada. The matches were played on 34 fields at seven sites in Howard County and at Fort Meade.
The Darby took the lead for good against the Scotties in the 10th minute of the 50-minute contest. Matthew Stevenson touched the ball to Brian West at the top right corner of the penalty area.
West beat one defender cleanly and beat goalkeeper Aaron Hankey from eight yards just inside the near post for a 1-0 lead.
Landolt intercepted a weak Penns Forest clear and on the second touch launched a 22-yard rocket into the top right corner for insurance.
While the Darby would enjoy winning the tournament, their real challenge begins next weekend.
That's where the state championships start the road to repeating their regional crown, which would earn them a ticket to their first nationals in Blaine, Minn. The national tournament begins at the U-16 age group.
"That's why we're a team, to win nationals," said Landolt. "We have to take it one game at a time, but our main goal isn't to win this tournament."