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November 15, 2010
By PAUL MONTANA - Bulletin Sports Writer

In the past, the Piedmont Youth Soccer League has lagged behind the Roanoke Star travel soccer program at just about every level.

The PYSL 15-and-younger team has at least put that notion in question.

In the championship match for the 16-and-younger bracket, the PYSL 15s fell in penalty kicks to the 16-and-younger Roanoke Star Elite in one of the final matches of the two-day Piedmont Shootout tournament at the Smith River Sports Complex.

The two teams played to a 2-2 draw before going to penalty kicks, where Roanoke prevailed 4-3.

"Roanoke used to be the powerhouse, but we have slowly caught up, and we're there," PYSL director of coaching Enda Crehan said. "We're there on a couple of levels with them."

"What I take out of it is, they didn't beat us in the field of play," said PYSL coach Richard Hall. "That's the best Roanoke has to offer at the 16 age-level."

While Roanoke fielded a team comprised of mostly 16-year-olds, the PYSL players were all 15 and younger. At just about every position on the field, Roanoke had a significant advantage in both size and speed.

But thanks to a sturdy defense, some fine goalkeeping from Koby Johnson and a tactically advanced squad that effectively moved the ball, PYSL hung with Roanoke even as the Star won the shots-on-goal battle 12-3.

Twice, the PYSL 15s battled back from one goal down. Trailing 1-0, PYSL forward Misael Sanchez - who wreaked havoc on Roanoke's defense throughout the evening - measured a shot from 30 yards away that clanged off the crossbar. Brandon Smith's first rebound-header hit the crossbar again, but he made good on another rebound attempt to knot the score at 1-all.

A few minutes later, Miles Bent gave Roanoke a 2-1 lead with a blast from 30 yards away. But pesky PYSL wouldn't quit.

With seven minutes remaining in regulation, outside back Penn Hartsell played a pretty pass down the sideline to Sanchez, who quickly whipped a cross into the penalty area. Roanoke keeper Ryne Bower appeared to have an easy save of the cross as it hopped into the box, but a hustling Smith headed the ball into the net just before Bower could get a grip.

"Brandon is a torrential crasher," Hall said. "When the ball gets to bouncing around, he's a physical kid, he's a strong kid. That's where he's at his best."

Johnson's 10 saves - including several breakaway stuffs - kept PYSL in the game throughout and particularly as it moved to overtime, "in his most complete game so far," Hall said.

But to PYSL's dismay, both Sanchez and Johnson - two of the players who had been integral to the 2-2 draw in regulation - sent their penalty kicks over the crossbar, and Roanoke came out with the win.

The host club, though, walked away with plenty of respect from its peers.

"I thought they were fantastic," said Ryan Hambright, coach of the Roanoke 16s. "I thought that both of those kids that they had up top (Sanchez and Smith) could easily be elite-level players in any city, whether it's Richmond, Virginia Beach, or any of them."

The PYSL 15s - who have scored 59 goals while giving up just five this season in the Blue Ridge Classic League - won three games in a row en route to the final at the Piedmont Shootout, including a 1-0 win over a 15-and-younger Roanoke squad Saturday.

But the 15s weren't the only PYSL players who found success in the Piedmont Shootout.

PYSL's 17-and-younger team won the tournament by virtue of its 4-0 record in the 19-and-younger bracket, including a 2-1 win over the PYSL 19-and-younger squad.

PYSL 17s coach David Keys pointed to defenders Miles Rachner and Nick Clark and forward Bryson Collins as having outstanding tournaments for his team. Rachner and Clark are Carlisle students, while Collins attends Martinsville High School.

"We did very well technically and moving the ball around," said Keys, who has seen his team score 36 goals while giving up just four in the Blue Ridge Classic League. "Everyone contributed. It was a true team effort."

The 13-and-younger PYSL team also won the Piedmont Shootout with a 2-0-1 overall record, including a 3-2 win over Roanoke's 13-and-younger team Saturday.

PYSL also fielded two 11-and-younger boys teams (overall records: 0-3 and 1-2) and a 16-and-younger girls team (overall record: 0-3) in the tournament.

Other winners at the tournament were: Roanoke Star Elite (11-and-younger boys, 11-and-younger girls, 13-and-younger girls), Roanoke Valley Youth Soccer Club (12-and-younger boys), Salem Sabres Maroon (12-and-younger girls), GUFC (14-and-younger boys), Valley AFC Arsenal (15-and-younger girls) and ODSC Crunch (16-and-younger girls).