At one point early in the second half, U.S. Marine Corps Detachment forward Abdulganiyu Aregbesola announced to his coach and teammates that he was “frustrated” by the Medical Department Activity’s defense, which was keeping him from getting near the goalkeeper’s box.
Aregbesola would later overcome that frustration and go on to score the game-winning goal, leading the Marines to a 2-1 victory and the 2019 Commander’s Cup Soccer Tournament first-place trophy.
What motivated that turnaround? Aregbesola credited his teammates.
“I talked to my coaches and my teammates,” he said. “We help each other stay focused and keep striving. I get that motivation from my teammates, our goalie, our coach and my friends on Fort Leonard Wood.”
The win was the 12th consecutive victory for the Marine Det., which finished the 2019 regular season and the tournament with a perfect record.
“They came out here every week and they fought,” said Stephen Standifird, Marine Det. coach. “Many of these guys are students who are doing a full day of classes and then coming out here to compete. At this level, it’s a phenomenal accomplishment to be able to do stuff like that.”
After their own defense held off several scoring attempts by MEDDAC, Aregbesola scored the first goal of the game for the Marine Det. at the 17-minute mark of the first half with an assist by midfielder Alvin Diaz.
MEDDAC would tie the game on a goal by Carlos Wright with about 23 minutes remaining in the second half.
The final goal of the game occurred when a MEDDAC defender missed a kick off a high bounce. Aregbesola gained control of the ball, maneuvered around the MEDDAC goalkeeper and tapped the ball into the net.
MEDDAC spent the final 10 minutes of the match attempting to score multiple times but was rebuffed by the Marine Det. defense.
“There at the end, we were panicking a little bit because they were coming at us pretty heavy,” Marine Det. goalkeeper Ladd Milton said. “It was just hard work and not giving up.”
This was the second consecutive year for MEDDAC to finish the tournament as the runners up. Despite the loss, MEDDAC coach Marion Niemotko said he was proud of the performance put on by his players.
“I think my team played their best game of the entire season,” Niemotko said. “Every game (presents challenges), and things happen. We were unfortunate enough to make some not-so-great plays and (the Marines) capitalized on it.”
Earlier Friday, the 84th Chemical Battalion won the tournament’s third-place game by forfeit victory.
Luis Padilla, representing the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Sports Department, presented the second-place trophy to MEDDAC and the first-place trophy to the Marine Det. players.
The tournament was the final event of the 2019 season, which began April 9 with 11 unit teams. Eight teams completed the season to qualify for the tournament.
“First and foremost, I want to thank everyone for taking part in the season,” Padilla said. “I think it was the largest soccer season we’ve had so far — at least since I’ve been here.”
Friday was the second time in three years the Marine Det. won the tournament. They also took first place in 2017.
This year’s tournament began May 29, with games held on three consecutive days. The Marine Det. beat the 2nd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment 10-0, then defeated the 84th Chemical Battalion 3-2 to advance to the final.
According to Standifird, Marine Det. players showed dedication, as well as mental and physical toughness throughout the tournament. However, he noted defender Sebastian Gonzalez and midfielder Federico Rivera went the extra mile. Both Military Police students, Gonzalez and Rivera went through pepper-spray training the day of the championship.
“They had to recover from getting sprayed in the face with (Oleoresin Capsicum) and come out here and play,” Standifird said. “That just shows the level of dedication. Three games in three days is tough — but they stuck it out, and they were harder, stronger and smarter at the end of the game.”