It was a story book ending, requiring perseverance and a dramatic finish.
The Colorado Rapids U-18 Development Academy team defeated the Dallas Texans on a stoppage time goal from Dillon Serna in the third and final match of group play of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs on Thursday morning in Frisco, Texas. With the win, the Rapids remained undefeated in the group and claimed one of the eight coveted berths in the Academy Finals, which will be played in Houston from July 16-23.
“For these players, this is a reward for months of work, not just this week,” said U18 coach and Academy Director Brian Crookham. "It took every player on our roster stepping up and playing like they did. I am very proud of these guys.”
For the third straight game the Rapids lost a key player to injury early on. Center back Chris Gurule was clipped from behind in the 5th minute and twisted his knee, forcing a substation to an already depleted roster. The Texans took full advantage and proceeded to dominate the entire first half. They finally broke through late into stoppage when Rapids midfielder Austin Seifert was called for a foul in the penalty area. The Texans converted the penalty kick and took a 1-0 lead into the break.
The Rapids knew they could advance to the final with a tie, so long as Empire United did not defeat South Carolina’s Battery United by more than three goals in the other group match. Still trailing in the second half despite gaining control of the game, Crookham said they got word that Empire was winning 6-1.
Shortly afterwards the duo of Serna and Seifort combined twice for the dramatic ending. First it was Serna who sent a long ball to Seifert in the box, which Seifert calmly brought down. His first touch perfectly laid the ball diagonally past the Texans’ goalkeeper, allowing Seifert to easily score to tie the match.
Pushing for the winning goal, the Rapids missed two point-blank chances from 8 and 12 yards in the final minutes of play. However, three and a half minutes into second half stoppage time, Seifert’s long ball from the left side found Serna in the Texans' area. The team captain’s shot from 12 yards out found the back of the net, sending his teammates and coaches into a wild celebration.
“We told the players last night to focus on every detail of playing, not the rewards of winning,” Crookham said. “That way of thinking is what allowed this group to continue pushing and to find a way to win in such a tough situation.”
The loss of Gurule left the coaches shorthanded, as the team had already lost forward Daniel Nevarez, defender Jason Pillard, and midfielder Shane O’Neill to injury in the first three matches. In addition, Idrissa Camara, who scored in the 4-1 win over the Battery and was dragged down to set up the tying penalty kick against Empire was suspended for accumulating yellow cards.
All will now have a few weeks to recover before the team returns to Texas for a shot at the National Championship.
“I am so proud of the effort and contributions of each of these players,” Crookham said. “And I’m excited that they now have the opportunity to showcase themselves again on a national stage.”