Capital Fall Classic: Host Richmond Strikers teams overcome challenges to win championships
By Jimmy LaRoue
Capital Fall Classic hosts Richmond Strikers found success during boys’ weekend, with four of its teams either winning or tying for championships in their respective brackets and another three of their teams finishing as finalists.
However, it wasn’t without challenges for at least two of its teams.
Those challenges, in particular, were daunting for its U-16 Elite squad, playing in the U-15/16 Premier bracket. Though the team played all U-15 teams, it had to overcome the absence of five players due to injury, according to coach Equiano Chatawa, including one of those in the opening game of the Capital Fall Classic going down with a broken leg.
Still, it went through the bracket winning all three of its matches–1-0 against Annandale BGC Copperheads U-15, 2-0 over FC Richmond Magic 97 U-15 and 4-1 over Shenandoah Valley United 97 Premier U-15–to reach the final.
In the final, it needed just a single goal to hold off a stout Smithfield Nitro U-15 team 1-0.
“We lost almost my entire defensive line,” Chatawa said. “All told, we’ve got three broken legs, one concussion and my starting goalkeeper, he was out with a broken nose, so when we started this week, we only had just 11 players.”
That forced Chatawa to move a few younger guys to a higher age group, and given a chance to step up, they did so.
“We had the advantage of playing at home, the weather was great, the tournament was nice and the kids worked hard,” Chatawa said. “That’s the key. We worked hard all season. It’s a team that’s a mixture of different guys; they’re not on the same team they were last season, so we have to do some work to try and get them together. It’s all coming together right.”
He said he had to trust the new players coming in, and after playing a 4-4-2 in the opening game and losing another defender to a broken leg, switched to a 3-5-2.
“I just wanted to try and compress the midfield and at least use that midfield area to help defend and attack the team,” Chatawa said.
Smithfield Nitro, he said, was a very athletic team that was hard to overcome.
“It was a very good final,” Chatawa said.
He praised the play of Ansel Lu, who captained the team from his spot as a central defender, as well as right back Jarrett Nooney. The team’s central midfielders–Marco Randazzo, Connor Fair and Alex Coetzee–formed an effective triangle in the middle of the Strikers’ lineup. Still, with an injury-depleted team, he got contributions from the entire team.
“Overall, I’m the type of coach that doesn’t like to single out players, because I believe in the concept of soccer being a team sport,” Chatawa said. “I think the team handled itself really well this weekend.”
The team had been scheduled to play in the Bethesda Thanksgiving Tournament next weekend, but due to the injuries, has pulled out to give its players time to heal. Chatawa said he wants his team to be more patient with the game and possess the ball better while making proper runs.
“The players have a tendency to watch the game, and what I’m trying to get them to do is make those movements ahead of time, anticipate the game and move into the pockets, keep the game connected,” Chatawa said. “I’ve got a philosophy in soccer that the first look should be 10 yards forward. If 10 yards forward is not on, then your next look should be wide. If wide is not on, only then do you go back.”
He said the team played “middle-of-the-road” during the season, with losses tending to be by just a single goal, finishing 1-3-3 in the Virginia Club Champions League South Under-16 Boys Division, putting it seventh out of eight teams.
Overcoming injuries to win a championship at home, he said, was a nice way to cap off its fall season.
For the Strikers’ Elite U-12 team, winning four games in the Capital Fall Classic, capping it off with a second win, 5-0, over Chantilly Impact in the championship game was a strong way to close the fall after a middle-of-the-road VCCL South campaign in which it finished 3-3-1. It will make the trip north to Bethesda for the tournament there this weekend before concluding its fall campaign.
“I’m extremely proud of the group,” said Elite U-12 coach Trevor Spencer. “We’ve been working hard all season–a little bit slow and then each day, each week, we [kept] improving and then to finish off the finals the way we did over the weekend, winning four games, is huge.”
The Strikers Elite U-12s opened Group A play Saturday with a 6-1 win over Shenandoah Valley United 00 Blue, and later in the day got their first win over Chantilly Impact, 3-1. Sunday, the Strikers Elite opened with a 6-2 win over Virginia Legacy Wizards U-12 in the semifinals, and then poured on the goals in its second win over the Impact in the finals.
“Our guys make it a little bit easier [this weekend] because we possessed the ball, we moved the ball,” Spencer said. “It’s not always about running.”
He said he has been working on possession and when dispossessed, trying to do the work to regain possession.
“Every day is, ‘Can we keep the ball? Can we think to make a smart play?’ And when we lose the ball, we are going to get it back,” Spencer said. “We’ve got to fight hard, we’ve got to get it back, win it, and it’s time to relax and play positive soccer, so that’s been good.”
Spencer was pleased that the Elite U-12s got off to a quick start in the final and kept increasing their lead throughout.
“That’s key for us, as sometimes we start slow, and we have to fight back in a game,” Spencer said. “So to stay solid, get the lead, get a second goal and now it [takes] a little bit more pressure off and then don’t let them in it and find more goals is good for us.”
Richmond Strikers boys teams in Capital Fall Classic
Strikers Spain – tied 1st, Men’s U-18 High School Superior (3-1-0)
Richmond Strikers U-9 Messi – Finalist, U-9 Premier
Richmond Strikers Elite – Champions, U-12 Premier
Richmond Strikers United – Finalist, U-12 Classic
Richmond Strikers Elite – Champions, U-13 Premier
Richmond Strikers Elite – Finalist, U-14 Premier
Richmond Strikers Elite – Champions, U-15/16 Premier