By Walter Reich
Penalty Kicks prove Golden for Cedar Girls.
Cedar U19 Girls returned home on Monday, February 6, 2023 as Champions of the SoccerFeva Football Tourney hosted by American International School of Kingston (AISK) in Jamaica this past weekend. Played over two grueling days and countless games, the girls made it to the Championship Game on the back of 4 wins and a draw in the preliminary round and 2 wins in the playoffs.
The Final was played on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon in front of a packed house against Jamaica’s Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy (ICCA). Both teams would make it to the finals with heroic performances in the previous rounds that had taken a physical toll on both teams. For Cedar, top tournament scorer Darci Reich and left back Ariel Mohammed were nursing ankle injuries that required ice and a heavy wrap before each game while others on the team had bruises and cuts to block out.
“Expectations were high for the finals…but each win on the march to the final also brought additional pressure to the girls” noted UEFA A Certified Head Coach John Reilly. “Many of the veteran girls have played together for years with several members playing in their final international school tournament before they venture off to university next year. The pressure had been lingering in the background all tournament long but was clearly front in center as the referee blew his whistle to start the game. The veteran girls wanted this one badly.”
The game would turn out to be a cagey affair at the outset. Both teams would produce some solid goalscoring chances.
For Cedar, Captain Gabi Jermyn would find Zolita Bamford on the run during a set play corner kick only for Zolita to miss narrowly wide. Zolita would then skim the top of the net with an emphatic header off another corner this time provided by Darci.
Ariel would find herself one on one with the ICCA keeper deep into the game off a beautiful thru ball from Zolita only to find the ball bounding wide. Imogen Allen would just miss getting to a cross pitch pass after making a trademark darting run that produced a couple of goals in the early rounds. Catrin Jones once again providing physicality and timely passes. Darci would smash the ball against the upright in the second half. Would it be one of those kinds of games where luck would seemingly be against the Cedar Girls?
In goal for Cedar was Giada Palladino who continued her incredible play into the final. Her poise, composure and fearless play defying her young age. “In addition to her shot blocking it was her instinctive and aggressive interceptions as she bounded out of her 18 yard box with confidence and speed to nullify potential goal scoring chances before they could materialize that was equally impressive” noted team organizer Julie Reich.
“It seemed inevitable that the game would end 0-0 with the champion decided on penalties with around a minute left in the game” Assistant Coach Alessandro Palladino would say later. Then out of seemingly nothing, ICCA scored a go ahead goal. No one on the bench could believe it. The Jamaican supporters were unison in their celebration and they were loud! For this game they were clearly all supporting ICCA. The Cedar girls on the pitch however had other ideas. With ICCA supporters screaming in joy, dancing and celebrating, the Cedar Girls quickly brought the ball to the center circle with Catrin Jones thankfully ensuring the ball did not stray further than the center circle as it was kicked out of the Cedar goal. Darci implored the referee to blow his whistle to restart the game. He obliged and three passes later Darci would latch on to a pass from Zolita about 25 yards from goal. One touch, look up and her second touch would turn out to be a thunderbolt of a shot that would land in the bottom right corner of the ICCA goal. Defenders from ICCA collapsed onto the pitch. Everyone in attendance went crazy. Jamaican supporters could be seen shaking their heads in disbelief. More neutral fans who loved the Cedar game of precision passing could be seen with eyes and mouths wide open. They could not believe what they had just seen. The Cedar Girls had conjured up an equalizer with literally the last kick of the game.
Eerily reminiscent of the recent World Cup played in Qatar, the game would be decided from penalty kicks with each team having 3 PKs. First up was ICCA and it would be Giada Palladino coming up big once more for the Cedar Girls. Diving to her right to block a low shot destined for the back of the goal – No Goal!. “Stopping PKs is extremely difficult but her save gave the Cedar Girls belief and confidence that they could go on and win” noted John Reilly. “It seemed to shake off all the pressure that had built up over the tournament.” Next up was Darci who would calmly slot in her shot for a goal. Jubilation! Cedar 1, ICCA 0. Up next was ICCA who would shoot to the top right corner of Giada’s goal. Giada would incredibly get her gloves to the ball as she dove to stop it but just not enough to palm the ball around the post. 1-1. Next up Ariel who would set her sights, take a deep breath and clinically dispatch her kick for a goal. Joy! 2-1 for Cedar. ICCA would then shoot and score their PK to make the score 2-2 with only Gabi Jermyn left to shoot for Cedar. “If she scores, Cedar win SoccerFeva 2023. You could hear a pin drop for that final kick it was so quiet” remarked one supporter. “Hearts were pounding and some supporters could hardly watch”. Gabi shot, her kick finding the back of the goal but as she started to run back to her celebrating teammates everyone realized the referee was waving off the goal in emphatic fashion. Gabi had taken her PK before the referee had blown his whistle as instructed and would have to take the penalty again. Could she score again under such pressure? She would place the ball, take her two steps backwards, take a deep breath and shoot — Goooooooooooal! Yes, she could. Cedar Wins Cedar Wins! Cedar supporters, including the Cedar Boys team who had earlier won the bronze medal stormed the pitch to celebrate with the girls. Joy, tears, relief could be seen on all the girls’ faces. An absolutely epic game for the ages was the best way to describe how the match had unfolded.
Boys win 3rd place and Best Sportsmanship Award
Cedar Boys displayed technical skills and aggressive/physical play throughout the boys’ side of the draw. The semi-final game against Hillel Academy, a Jamaican IB School with over 700 students was an exceptionally fast-paced, physical game that would show off the technical skills of both teams that would end in a 1-1 draw after Rush Broderick had given the Cedar Boys an early lead. To say the game was physical would be an understatement. Had the referee taken a more strict interpretation of football rules, Hillel may have found themselves down a player or two in this match due to red cards. Instead, both teams would go to PKs to decide who would fight for the Championship Trophy against Lyford Cay International School (Bahamas). PK goals from Rush and Tai Thomas would sandwich a save off of Captain Adrian Adam’s well struck PK meaning that the Cedar Boys would have to settle for playing for third place against Lucaya International School (Freeport) which they would win in emphatic style with goals coming from Adrian (3), Tai and Rush each with 1, Dylan Cline (2). Dylan Foster and Naty Williams would each set up two while Gethin Jones would fearlessly block countless shots to continually frustrate Lucaya’s strikers. Johan Blok would act as keeper for Cedar and would narrowly miss a clean sheet in the final game.