The victory ritual was complete.
A small army of elated faces snuck over to the water jug that lay on the wooden table hidden away behind the team tent at Burbank Soccer Complex, grabbed it and quietly made its way over to where the head coach was talking.
He didn’t have time to react — Hue Menzies was drenched on impact as ice water rolled off his shirt.
The MAI Maitland 96/97 Florida Krush Black Under-17 girls squad accomplished the ultimate goal of the regional tournament after defeating the 97 Louisiana Fire Navy 2-1 in overtime, and they earned a ticket to the US Youth Soccer National Championship tournament in Germantown, Maryland.
“It just shows the resilience of our kids,” Menzies said. “They came here to do one thing, and it’s to win it and go to Nationals. I’m just proud of them.”
It was no easy victory.
After playing six games in seven days, the Krush Black and LA Fire took the game to overtime after remaining tied 1-1 through the first 90 minutes of regulation.
To add to the challenge, rain Wednesday night plus spotty showers Thursday morning made the fields a virtual slip’n slide, making the idea of scoring another goal more difficult.
Menzies put his entire roster to the test.
“It’s very difficult,” he said. “We had 18 players, so we used everybody. That was important for us, and we came here to make sure we used our bench.”
Before the first 15 minutes of overtime concluded, the Krush Black struck when 17-year-old University of South Carolina commitment Carrie Lawrence launched a shot just over the outreached arms of LA Fire goalie Samantha Bourgeois.
The LA Fire failed to respond, sealing their fate as the final Louisiana squad to be eliminated from the tournament.
While Menzies’ girls hugged and began their celebration, LA Fire coach Stephen Mcanespie watched as his squad remained composed following defeat.
“At the end of the day, someone’s got to win and someone’s got to lose,” Mcanespie said. “That’s just the nature of the game. We tough it out, and at the end of the day they came through, and we just fell short a little bit.”
Mcanespie’s team knew the feeling of jubilation being experienced by the Krush Black — the LA Fire were regional champions last season.
Maitland broke the ice in the first half on a Ruvimbo Mucherera goal at the 14-minute mark. The Fire evened it at 1-1 when Martha Jane Williams scored at the 45-minute mark.
When the excitement finally settled, Mcanespie gathered his team, trying to find the proper words to say.
Some players fought back tears, while others gave pats on the back. Mcanespie admitted it would take time for his girls to understand what they had accomplished, but for now he simply let the raw emotion of the loss do its work.
“You look at them, and you try to say the right words, but sometimes there isn’t words,” Mcanespie said. “You let them just feel the emotion sometimes. You try to make them feel proud of that they achieved by coming this far, so they’ve got to feel pride in that.”