The Metropolitan Oval U-16 boys are Nike Super Y League North American champions. The New York based side defeated the Toronto Lynx Juniors 4-3 in a penalty kick shootout that proved to be one of the competition’s more thrilling games. It was a journey that officially began in June and culminated in a five day trip to the IMG academy in Bradenton, Florida for the right to play for the U-16 Super Y League North American championship. Having finished second in their division in the summer season, Met Oval advanced to the finals weekend, which took place from December 5th through the 9th. The team worked very hard in training to prepare for this five day journey that served as their motivation since the beginning of the season.
Coach Mohorovic praised the team’s commitment and mentality when he explained, “it was very clear to me that the boys really wanted it this year and were out to prove it to themselves and the entire league since day one.” Mohorovic credited the focus and day by day approach while down in Bradenton to the team’s success, as game analysis and tactical discussion took place daily at the hotel. While not playing and actively preparing for games, the team took part in a few activities together. Most notable was a visit to Siesta beach for a relaxing afternoon and a seminar dinner on the college recruiting process hosted by IMG. Additionally, the boys had ample time to complete their homework assignments to keep pace with their classes.
Met Oval played a total of five games while down in Florida, posting a very strong 3-0-1 record leading up to the final with an impressive goal differential of +7. Met Oval earned an opportunity in the finals to avenge their one blemish in group play, a 2-2 draw against Toronto Lynx Juniors. Coach Mohorovic was quick to draw attention to the developing rivalry that exists between the Toronto and New York based sides over the past couple of years. The last two times these sides met were both very hard fought games on big stages. The first of two matches took place during the Y-League finals weekend one year ago, where Toronto got the better of Met Oval, winning 2-1.
Coach Mohorovic mentioned that this loss was definitely a source of motivation for the boys in training and that this year’s matchup was a revenge game. The most recent encounter was at a national college showcase, where Met Oval beat Toronto in a game that went to a penalty-kick shootout. Coach Mohorovic commented on the team's pre-final approach, “we knew it was going to be a very difficult match and that we would have to bring our best. I was very pleased with the way the boys prepared for what’s becoming an intense rivalry matchup.”
A goalless first half showed that both teams were very well organized and tactically disciplined. “It was a true tactical affair and a very high level of soccer,” one parent described, “Fantastic environment.” After surrendering the first goal of the game with 4 minutes left in regulation, Met Oval showed a very strong team character when they equalized two minutes later, forcing the game into overtime tied at one. In a post-game interview, coach Mohorovic commented on the final minutes of regulation, “even though we conceded a late goal, something told me the game wasn’t over yet. This team’s character and resilience showed itself again.” The two sides exchanged a few goal scoring opportunities in the two overtime periods, but none of noteworthy threat, forcing the game to a penalty-kick shootout.
Met Oval goalkeeper and captain Gianfranco Barone solidified his standout performance during the shootout. After going down 2-0, Barone gave his teammates the opportunity to level the score with two massive saves. Met Oval’s Eduardo Vasquez and Gustavo Fernandes made no mistake as they converted their shots from the spot, leveling the score at two. Toronto scored its fifth kick to go up 3-2, putting the pressure all on Met Oval’s fifth kicker, Gianfranco Barone.
The captain didn’t show any sign of nerves as he slotted his shot into the lower right corner, forcing the shootout to sudden death. Barone wasted no time and saved Toronto’s 6th try, setting the stage for a Gabriel Fernandes winner. A picture of composure, Fernandes buried his shot into the lower left corner with conviction, igniting the roaring celebration and crowning Met Oval North American champions.
“We worked hard to get to this spot. We only had one goal, and that was winning it. We did it after four long years of waiting for it,” Barone said. “I tried to keep a clear mind [during the shootout], and was just reading where they were going. God watched over me and helped me out, and that’s it. I’m grateful for everything.”
Head coach Ivo Mohorovic praised his team for their gutsy and inspiring performance in what was a very physical and tactical affair. “We knew we had to fly back to New York, but our goal was to do so on day five as North American champions. I couldn’t be more proud of the boys,” said Mohorovic, “Mission accomplished.”
Met Oval will look build off this championship as they embark on their league season and the always exciting New York state cup competition in the new year. The team is excited for the challenges that lie ahead and will work hard to continue to develop as a team. Everyone at Met Oval is very proud of this tremendous accomplishment and wishes the U-16s a mighty congratulations on their Y-League championship. The club is very excited for what 2015 has in store for these young men!