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Wallingford Warriors
Wallingford Warriors

Late penalty kick blocked, Warriors’ title hopes end in U17 tournament

GREER, S.C. — The Wallingford Warriors will not be playing for the U17 boys soccer championship today in the National Presidents Cup.

They will have to take consolation, literally, in playing in the tournament consolation game.

And in playing one last time on the fine fields of the MESA Soccer Complex.

And in the fact that they made it to the national Final Four in the first place.

The Warriors, Connecticut’s first-ever National Presidents Cup qualifier, lost their final pool game Saturday 3-2 to the Cape Coral Cyclones of Florida. That left them at 0-2-1 and the only team in the boys U17 bracket not to win at least one game.

Saturday’s pill was the toughest to swallow, tougher than the 2-2 tie Thursday against Springfield, Ill. in which a 2-0 lead got away in the second half and tougher than the 2-1 loss Friday to undefeated Las Vegas.

Awarded a penalty kick, the Warriors had a glittering chance to tie in the closing seconds of stoppage time. Drin Pacuku’s shot was well struck and well directed to the lower right corner, but Cape Coral’s goaltender was up to the task, laying full out to make the save.

The play sort of summed up Wallingford’s experience in South Carolina over the past three days: awfully close, but not close enough, and a trifle unlucky.

In the assessment of head coach Dave Rodriguez: “We had chances. We didn’t get a lot of luck. You have to get some breaks at this level, and you have to finish. We didn’t make the best of our chances.”

Hard to dispute that. The Warriors out-shot all three of their opponents. They also led in two of the three games.

Against Florida, the locals went up 1-0 in the 25th minute with Jeff Baksa setting up Andre Rodriguez.

Ten minutes later, though, the Cyclones tied it on the first of two headers that went for goals. The second came six minutes into the second half.

“We were a little bit flat today and they were a solid team” Coach Rodriguez said. “They moved the ball real well and they finished their chances. Those two headers were well executed.”

Down 2-1, the Warriors pushed the attack, bringing numbers forward. It led not to the equalizer, but a insurance tally as Florida scored on a counter.

That goal proved to be the difference. Pacuku scored in the 78th minute to bring Wallingford to within 3-2.

The Warriors still had 12 minutes of regulation to work with. They had four bonus minutes of stoppage time. They had the penalty kick. Florida held.

“They deserved to win, they really did,” said Rodriguez. “They came to play and we were flat. Overall, it was a fair result.”

That being said, Rodriguez made sure he picked his troops up.

“We had a debriefing when we got back to the hotel. I went through all they had accomplished as a team,” said the coach. “They were greatly disappointed when we left the field, as you might imagine. But they’re OK now.”

Psychologically, perhaps, but not physically.

The Warriors are banged up, Rodriguez said, and several regulars might not be able to play in today’s consolation game rematch with Cape Coral (1-2) at 10:25 a.m. At the same time, Las Vegas (3-0) and Springfield (1-1-1) will meet in the championship game.

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