The Ambassadors FC 97G Blue team began the US Youth Soccer National Championships with high expectations last Tuesday, poised and ready to play in the elite youth soccer competition in Frisco, TX. The team opened up with a 2-0 win over National League points-leader NJ Stallions Dynamite, with goals scored by Sarah Krause (25’) and Hope Lewandowski (41’).
In the second game of group play, AFC faced Syracuse Development Academy, which had lost to Carlsbad Elite the day before in a 6-0 match. AFC went down 1-0 in the first half on a goal from Jade Gentile of SDA, one of the leading goal scorers in the National League. In the second half, AFC pushed for an equalizer and was rewarded with a header goal from Erin King (75’) off a corner-kick. AFC hoped for a better result, given its 26-4 shot differential during the game, but the match ultimately ended in a 1-1 tie.
After the second game, AFC was ranked second in its group standings. After the actual 8-goal differential between AFC and SDA was adjusted under tournament rules, AFC still led by a 6-goal differential heading into its match against Carlsbad. AFC was poised to advance to the semi-finals with a win, tie or loss, depending on the goal differentials following the third games of group play. (If SDA won by four goals, AFC would have to lose by three goals to forfeit its second place position. As it turned out, SDA won its third game by only three goals and its fate depended on AFC losing by four goals.) With a 2-0 record, Carlsbad had already qualified for advancement prior to the game, no matter what the outcome. As a result, AFC played defensively, in an attempt to preserve its leading goal differential, and Carlsbad implemented the same strategy, resulting in an unexciting and controversial 0-0 draw.
Advancing to the semi-finals, the AFC team battled against Tennessee SC but was ultimately defeated in a 0-2 loss, ending its extended season with bronze medals. Ambassadors FC is proud of the 97G Blue players. They have been fully committed to the team and their teammates and have done everything the coaching staff has asked them to do. To win the Midwest Regional League title, Ohio North State Cup title and Region II title and finish third in the US Youth Soccer National Championships in the same year is an incredible achievement.
The AFC 97G Blue team has unfortunately been the target of some harsh criticism, and we appreciate those who have supported the players and their families as well as our coaches. Following the third game of group play between AFC and Carlsbad, media outlets inaccurately reported that both teams needed a tie to advance, raising unsubstantiated allegations of match fixing. Although no official protest had been filed in accordance with US Youth Soccer rules, the National Championships Committee nonetheless investigated the matter and promptly concluded that there was no evidence of match fixing. Regrettably, the Committee did find that the teams’ defensive tactics “were disrespectful to the game, the competition and US Youth Soccer.”
Ambassadors FC is grateful to the US Youth Soccer National Championships Committee for its prompt investigation and conclusion dispelling all allegations of collusion between AFC and its competitor. In addition, AFC has been and remains grateful to the US Youth Soccer organization, its Board and its members and for all they have done to grow the sport in the United States over the years.
Our 97G Blue head coach had this statement for US Youth Soccer:
“I wanted to take an opportunity to put in writing my regret for the controversy that surrounded our match against Carlsbad. Our team’s intentions were not at all ill-willed, but we understand how the match could be interpreted by some as a poor representation of the game of soccer.
Under the US Youth Soccer National Championship rules, both teams were in unique positions going into their final match of group play. Contrary to media reports, neither team needed a tie to advance. Instead, Carlsbad had already qualified for the semi-finals and presumably sought to preserve its players in the 100+ degree heat at 1:30 p.m. With a 6-goal differential lead, AFC needed only to avoid defeat by three or more goals in order to advance under tournament rules. Our strategy, therefore, was both to defend against goals and to preserve the health and well-being of our players.
As the game video demonstrates, after 25 minutes of competitive play in the heat with several attacking and counter-attacking scoring opportunities for both teams and an injury to a Carlsbad player, the tone of the game changed to a completely defensive posture. Carlsbad stopped pressing up high, and both teams passed the ball through their back lines without advancement. Although consistent with AFC’s pre-game strategy to defend against goals and presumably Carlsbad’s strategy to preserve and prepare for the semi-finals, the remainder of the game was far from the standards seen in earlier games by both teams. In hindsight, we wish the style and pace of play throughout the entirety of the game was more consistent with the standard of play on the two previous days. However, the conservative approach demonstrated by AFC and Carlsbad for the remainder of the game was also entirely consistent with the advantage earned by both teams under the US Youth Soccer National Championships round-robin qualifying and semi-final format.
What happened next, however, could not have been anticipated and is still beyond belief. After the game, media outlets were provided with misinformation from unidentified sources, inaccurately reporting that both teams needed a tie to advance and raising sensational allegations of match-fixing. The US Youth Soccer National Championships Committee had no choice but to conduct an investigation and, fortunately, quickly rendered an opinion that dispelled all allegations of collusion between AFC and Carlsbad. Nonetheless, the AFC and Carlsbad coaches and players were vilified on social media and harassed on the field. The unwarranted personal attacks levied upon our young female players epitomize disrespect for US Youth Soccer and offend codes of sportsmanship and decency. While the harm to our players cannot be undone, it is important to set the record straight.
Ambassadors FC is deeply upset that a game in which we were participants resulted in negative attention for the US Youth Soccer organization and the National Championships. No actions taken by me or the team were purposefully meant to disrespect the game or the tournament.
We are a faith-based organization that places a high value on integrity and more importantly our faith and duty to honor our Lord in our play and our actions. It saddens me, my team and the entire Ambassadors family that our actions and intentions have been misrepresented and misinterpreted. Be assured, we will search for the faith lesson in this experience and will use it as a teachable moment to strengthen and guide the young women we have been entrusted to lead.”