Fifty-one soccer players from across the islands battled wet conditions in Tlell this weekend to the delight of fans watching the first ever Brady Soccer Tournament.
Seven teams competed for a cash prize of $410 in a double-knockout format, meaning if you lost two games, you were out.
The Tlell fields were split into three pitches, and teams fielded six players a side. With so many games going at once, there was plenty of action to follow, and by Saturday’s end Teams Ayla, Brady, Alvin and G-Bless had made it to the Sunday semi-finals. Unfortunately, Team Alvin was unable to make it down from Masset Sunday, so Teams Brady and G-Bless went head-to-head with the winner destined to meet the undefeated Team Ayla in the finals.
The semis had everything a fan could want. Facing a bigger and faster team in Team Brady, G-Bless showed tremendous fight and heart in a game that saw them down two starters before the opening whistle even blew. Team Brady shot out like spawning salmon in a swollen river, scoring two quick goals thanks to Devon Brady.
With the rain pouring on a visibly shaken G-Bless and less than five minutes to go in the half, victory seemed to be slipping away, along with everything else. But a magical pass from Taiman Vigneault found plucky centre Gavin Peerless, who made no mistake and drove the ball by his brother goalkeeper Kenli.
The second half saw goaltender MaeLin Precourt thwarting Team Brady again again, sacrificing her body multiple times and punching away myriad scoring opportunities from the stacked Brady offence. Aslan Fox and Ebon Clements relentlessly pushed up the wing, trying to use their blazing speed against the big Brady defenders, grazing posts and glancing headers off crossbars.
Finally, on a lucky deflection off Team Brady defender Isaiah Brady, Azlan Fox rippled the netting and brought his team back from oblivion and tied the game. From there the play up and down the field, with both teams battling for loose balls and position. In the last two minutes, lightning fast winger Ryan Brady crashed the nest and willed the ball by a prone Precourt to give Team Brady the lead. Then there was no looking back as Ryan Brady and Azlan Fox traded goals before Devon Brady sealed the win with a curving shot from the side of the box for a 5-3 victory.
Where the semis left off, Team Brady went straight to the final. Wearing their “Sunday Whites,” Team Ayla won the ball early and often with fancy footwork from top offensive talents Midori Campos and Devjeet Singh, plus the rock solid defensive duo of Justin Abbot and Allen Friesen.
Near the end of the first half, midfielder Alan Moore deftly placed a chip onto the foot of a charging Devjeet Singh, who neatly tucked the ball under the Brady goaltender for a quick lead. Team Brady responded with thunderous wing challenges from Josh Brady, Devon Brady and Chrystal Young while Isaiah Brady and Aaron Brady fearlessly chased down the wingers trying to penetrate their defensive fortress.
With time running down and Team Brady pressuring for the equalizer, Megan Ives came off the bench and swung a wonderful looper onto the foot of Alan Moore, who buried it like a hatchet in a rotten cedar stump for a two-goal lead.
So, as the half whistle blew, Team Ayla found the taste of victory dancing on the tip of their tongues.
But Team Brady used the 10-minute break to gather themselves and jogged back onto the field wearing the stony faces of a team that refuses defeat. Within the first minute, Devon Brady stripped the ball from an opposing player and danced his way around several defenders before firing it through the helpless hands of goalie Justin Abbot. Two minutes later it was Devon again, looking possessed as he fought off a challenge by Ayla Peerless, then threaded the ball into the back of the net and tied it.
By now the crowd was going wild and the still-pouring rain seemed a distant reality. With less than seven minutes on the clock, Midori Campos, who had been a terror on the pitch all day and a thorn in the side of Team Brady from the opening whistle, slipped the ball past two defenders onto the feisty foot of Mr. Singh who found the net for a 3-2 lead.
But Devon Brady dug deeper than a halibut longline and hauled in another pass before firing a blistering shot into the net to tie it once again. Back and forth they battled. Up and down the pitch they thundered, both teams unwilling to succumb to the will of the other while a boisterous crowd followed breathtaking play after breathtaking play.
At the last minute, Team Brady thought they had the win when a shot by Ryan Brady hit the crossbar, came straight down and rolled along the goal line. But Justin Abbot frantically pulled it into his arms for the save. Finally the whistle blew, signalling a 10-minute sudden death overtime for the soaked and exhausted players.
Overtime presented both teams with glorious scoring chances and gut-wrenching tackles on a muddied, sopping field. Even this reporter could not keep stop cheering both teams as they took turns trying to close an incredibly entertaining affair. And then, suddenly, with the mist rolling in and the rain drumming on the tops of our umbrellas, Devjeet Singh welcomed a brilliant give-and-go from Alan Moore, flew past the lone defender and, with authority, pierced the opposition’s goal with a neat-angled grounder and leapt into the arms of his teammates. Team Ayla had won the game.
But no less impressive than this spectacular soccer spectacle were the beaming smiles on both teams’ faces after the match. It was clear that the level of competition and enthusiasm for the First Annual Brady Soccer Tournament was the real winner.