The Michigan Jaguars U11 Boys Green Wolverine Tournament victory Monday proved that sometimes losing a battle helps win the war.
Playing against the Livonia Wolves Sunday in the final game of the preliminary rounds, the Jaguars lost, 6-4. They were held scoreless for most of the game, but reeled off four straight goals before the whistled sounded.
“I think that second half, even though we lost, showed the kids they could hang and play well,” said Jaguars coach Firas Al-Samarraie. “We showed ourselves we could play with any team. I think that really was the turning point for us.”
A total of ten Under Age 11 teams from Michigan, Ohio and Ontario, Canada participated in the four-day tournament held at several locations, including Waterford’s Oakland Yard. Teams were split into three flights with the flight winners and one wildcard advancing to championship rounds.
The Jaguars won their first two games Saturday by a combined 12-2 score before facing their longtime Livonia nemesis on Sunday. Ironically, the teams met again in the semi-final Monday morning with the Jaguars flipping the score on Livonia, 6-4.
Al-Samarraie said the difference was the self-confidence the team gained in its earlier loss. “We are our own biggest enemies at times,” he added. “When the kids put it into gear and want to play, they’re an outstanding team.”
Cincinnati United, meanwhile, cruised into the finals with four straight wins. With temperatures well into the 90s inside the Oakland Yard’s domed field, both teams came out aggressive early on Memorial Day. The Jaguars drew first blood with about eight minutes gone by as right midfielder Tony R. scored from the right wing on a nice lead pass from teammate Daiki M. Less than a minute later, Cincinnati tied the game as the result of a free kick.
The United team took the lead with about three minutes remaining before halftime. Not to be outdone, the Jaguars tied the game at two as Alex S. collected a rebound from Cincinnati’s goalie and put it in the back of the net.
With just two minutes gone by in the second half, Daiki made one of the game’s best plays. From about 15 yards away and with his back to the goal, the forward whirled around a defender and in one motion snapped a hard, well-placed shot past the goalie to give the Jaguars the lead, 3-2.
United fought back again, however, and tied the game 3-3 with about 25 minutes remaining. The goal seemed to give Cincinnati the momentum as the boys from Ohio carried the play to the Jaguars for a good portion of the second half.
Jaguars’ goalie Ryan S. made sure the game stayed tied. He made several crucial saves, including one from a Cincinnati forward at point-blank range.
“He came up big for us,” Al-Samarraie said. “He doesn’t get the credit he deserves at times because we do have a stellar defense in front of him. Sometimes he doesn’t have to do much, but when he does, he usually comes up big for us.”
Ryan wasn’t the only one in the family to come up big. With a few minutes remaining, center midfielder Adam S. streaked down the right wing and fired the game-winning goal into the left corner.
The victory avenged a loss to Cincinnati United in last fall’s Mead Cup Tournament. United, in fact, is noted as one of the midwest’s best teams, also having won the prestigious Nike Cup in April.
Al-Samarraie described the Jaguars Wolverine Tournament win as important after a disappointing showing in the Jaguars own tournament several weeks ago. “It was a great response for us to show that we can play with the elites in the region. This is a tournament with a lot of good teams in it. I think winning shows that we have the metal to play with the big boys.”
The Michigan Jaguars U11 team members include: Ryan S., Adam S., Alex D., Matthew D., DJ H., Andrew N., Carson R., Aidan J., Tony R., Jack T., Daiki M., Alex S. and Andy Z.