Fort Leonard Wood 2018 soccer season draws to close with Commander’s Cup competition
Story and photos by Matt Decker
The 14th Military Police Brigade did what no other team had done all season May 24, handing Medical Department Activity its first loss of the season in a 5-3 contest for the 2018 Commander’s Cup Tournament trophy.
“We kept working and working, and in the end we got the result we wanted,” Jared Weiler, 14th MP Bde. team captain, said. “These guys worked so hard, and I appreciate them so much. If it wasn’t for everybody’s efforts, we wouldn’t have made it this far.”
Forward Naim Zyberaj scored three goals for the 14th MP Bde. A first lieutenant in the Kosovo army attending the Military Police Captains Career Course here, he joined the team just a week prior to the tournament.
“I enjoy playing soccer here,” Zyberaj said. “This was a team (effort), and that’s why we won.”
Five minutes into the match, Zyberaj scored the first goal of the championship match to give the 14th MPs a 1-0 lead.
Two minutes later, teammate Andrew Mans followed with a long kick from about 22 yards out that bounced off MEDDAC keeper Craig Peel’s gloves into the net to extend the MPs’ lead to 2-0.
Soon after, Zyberaj nearly took himself out of the game after running into the left side of the MEDDAC goal post in an attempt to score on a corner kick from Weiler. The ball headed into the goal, but Peel dove to make the stop.
Zyberaj suffered what appeared to be a cut to the back of his scalp and, despite several attempts to re-enter play, had to wait until his teammates could find a bandage big enough to stay in place as he played.
Both teams made several shots on goal over the next 10 minutes, but none would score until, with less than a minute remaining in the first half, MEDDAC defender Erik Robinson kicked a bullet of a shot from 25 yards out straight into the 14th MPs’ net.
Holding onto a 2-1 lead at the start of the second half, the 14th MP Bde. kept the pressure up on offense.
Forward Dominique Cooper showed the power of persistence when he drove to the goal, took a shot that was deflected, but followed the ball to take a second shot from the opposite side of the goal to score the MPs’ third goal of the match.
MEDDAC took several shots on goal over the next 12 minutes. MEDDAC midfielder Edwin Suaza finally scored from about 20 yards out to narrow the 14th MPs’ lead to 3-2 with about seven minutes remaining.
However, Zyberaj, now with a bandaged head, returned to the field, and almost immediately scored a solo goal to give the MPs a 4-2 lead.
After Taylor Leischman scored a goal for MEDDAC on a head-in, Zyberaj scored the final goal of the match for the 14th MPs on a penalty kick.
After the match, Zyberaj said there was no way he was going to let an injury keep him sidelined.
“That’s not possible,” he said. “Only if they took me to the hospital. We are fighters.”
Jeff Cornuet, 14th MP Bde. coach, told his players after the match that they had definitely earned their victory.
“I’m really proud of how the team came together and played well,” Cornuet said. “This is a true team. (This team) played with the most heart out of any team that played this year. They played with their hearts and they played with dignity.”
The 14th MP Bde. also had the toughest road to the championship, playing its first two games of the tournament on the same night. The team earned a 5-0 win over the 169th Engineer Battalion in the 6 p.m. game May 23, then defeated the 5th Engineer Battalion, 2-0, in the 8 p.m. game that night.
MEDDAC beat the 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment, 8-1, in their first-round game May 22, then defeated the U.S. Marine Corps Detachment, 4-1, on May 23 to reach the championship round.
“Everyone has put in a great effort,” MEDDAC coach Marian Niemotko said. “Our first game was pretty easy. The second game, the Marines gave us a little bit of a challenge, but we were able to overcome certain obstacles and involved some great communication, passing and finishing.”
The Marine Det., the tournament’s defending champions, won this year’s third-place game by forfeit.
Marine Det. team captain Anthony Driver said despite the fact that he was disappointed that their opponents failed to show up for the final game of the season, he was still proud of his team.
“Our season went pretty good,” Driver said. “We played hard. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the (wins) that we needed.”
Col. Tracy Lanier, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Orvis, USAG Fort Leonard Wood command sergeant major, presented the tournament trophy to the 14th MP Bde. team.
“Congratulations on a well-fought game,” Lanier said as he passed the trophy to Weiler.
Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Chief of Sports Coleman Swinton thanked all players for participating in Fort Leonard Wood’s 2018 soccer season.
“You all did a great job, and we saw a lot of great sportsmanship from you this year,” Swinton said. “We appreciate it, and look forward to seeing you all next year.”