Capital Fall Classic: Battles, lessons and hope on day one
GLEN ALLEN, Va. – The boys weekend of the Capital Fall Classic unfolded across the Richmond, Va. area on Saturday with smooth sailing on the logistical side, but a range of tough challenges on the field of play for the nearly 200 teams from the Under-9 through U-18 age groups.
Clear skies and middling temperatures in the 50s removed the weather concerns that constantly stress tournament organizers, especially at this time of year, and allowed players and coaches to focus on the tasks at hand.
“The weather, every single time, just dictates all that. While it’s been kind of cool in comparison to the days leading up to it, it’s great,” said tournament director Chris Friant, who noted that at nearly 400 teams, this year’s edition of the event is the largest to date.
For some, the focus is on simply learning from new challenges against unfamiliar teams, while others in premier-level brackets are determined to win top honors in their divisions and thus earn a coveted invitation to the Jefferson Cup, the enormous spring tourney that is the feature event for CFC hosts the Richmond Strikers.
“This is an event that we are unfamiliar with. We’re just ready to bring them and give them a test,” said Anthony James, coach of Soccer Vision Academy Project24, a U-11 side which traveled to Richmond from Niles, Ohio (just outside Cleveland) to take part in the Capital Fall Classic for the first time.
“I’m always trying to find and research events that we feel will give them a chance to compete and grow.”
James’ squad notched a dominant win in their opening match against SYA Cardinals White 02 (Va.), but fell to the host club’s U11 Arsenal side in their second game, suggesting that his search for a challenge has been successful.
Older teams – often more conscious of the Jefferson Cup’s immense value as a showcase event – faced a different kind of pressure. In the case of the U-17 premier brackets, there were some very even, hard-fought results as teams from across Virginia and North Carolina battled to stay in championship contention by the time Sunday’s decisive matches roll around.
A motley mixture of teams from many different clubs and leagues meant that many found themselves facing a level of quality opposition rarely encountered closer to home.
“In our league play down in southeastern Virginia, we don’t get to play a lot of the teams that we get here,” said Justin Slezak, coach of VIP United FC Panthers, a U-14 team from Hampton, Va., told SoccerWire.com after a 5-2 loss to AC Sandhills Elite (N.C.) on Saturday afternoon. “We just don’t get the competition in that league that we need. And we come here and have to play a totally different level of play.”
Slezak’s side occupy first place in the second division of the Virginia Soccer League (formerly known as VSLI) with a 6-0 record in fall league play, but went 0-1-1 on the first day of CFC.
“It’s frustrating – because my players don’t want to listen to me in training, because they think they already know everything they need to know. And then we come out here and it’s like, ‘Oh, wow, I should’ve listened to coach!’” Slezak said with a wry smile.
“It will help us out for the last two games [in VSL]. We’re No. 1 in our division and we’re going to play the second- and third-place teams,” he added. “It was good coming out here and getting a loss, because we’re undefeated right now in the league, so it makes them realize, ‘Oh, we are beatable.’”
Friant acknowledged this intriguing aspect of the Capital Fall Classic, which he expects to continue to grow year by year now that a move to split into boys and girls weekends has enabled him and the Strikers to maximize their field capacity on Richmond’s excellent variety of grass and synthetic-turf venues.
“You do have a mixture of teams here,” Friant said on Saturday. “You have some established clubs and then you have these independent teams out there that are doing well and now you’re mixing them in with playing some really good teams.”
CFC boys weekend concludes with final round-robin games and championship finals, depending on age group and bracket structure.