Minneapolis United left the pitch Saturday with mixed emotions.
The U-14 boys' group emerged from the Schwan's USA Cup soccer tournament crowned as champions and even avenged an opening-round loss to the Brooklyn Italians in the process. But the tournament's conclusion meant the team would have to say goodbye to teammate and friend Marcus Jones.
"It's tough," coach Aaron Paye said after his team's 2-1 victory over Brooklyn. "Marcus' dad found another job, so he's moving. It's tough. I've been with him for the last three years. We wanted to get a win for him."
That victory was in jeopardy minutes after the second half. Brooklyn forward Ahmad Elfaham caught the ball with two defenders attached to his back. He spun to the left and fired a shot to the far left corner to tie the score at 1-1.
"I knew these guys wouldn't give up," Paye said. "They're tough. Those guys are mentally tough. They don't fold."
And they didn't. Midfielder Callen Knutson sealed the victory late in the second half with an open-goal shot, giving Minneapolis the lead again. Following a bad pass, Knutson ran forward with the soccer ball at his feet and the goalkeeper charging at him.
He faked a shot to the right before tapping the ball into the net, leaving the Brooklyn keeper sprawled behind him.
"When I got the ball, I kept thinking to myself, I have to score," Knutson said. "I have to score for my team."
Paye said he kept the game plans similar even though they lost to Brooklyn the first meeting. He thought his players had some tough breaks, but he wanted his team to play aggressively the second time around and create a few more chances.
That's exactly what they did. Minneapolis United had six shots on target in the first 20 minutes of the game, but had nothing to show for it.
Brooklyn's goalkeeper made save after save, including blocking a curling free kick from Ian Smith. Despite no luck, United continued applying pressure.
On a counterattack, Henry Stevens stole the ball and linked with a teammate down the field, who dished the ball back to Stevens in the open field. Stevens slipped through the defense and tucked a ball under the goalkeeper's arms to give United a 1-0 lead in the first half.
"It was about time," he said. "It felt good to finally get that goal after attacking so much."
When the whistle blew, United players huddled at midfield, chanting an old soccer song. "Olé, olé, olé, olé," they sung. "Olé, olé." After, they greeted family members in the crowd and doused each other with sodas.
Stevens summed up the game in two words: "Sweet revenge."