TUKWILA, WA – Tri-Cities Alliance FC rolled into the Eddie Craggs Memorial Evergreen Cup tournament, hosted by Starfire Sports in Tukwila, with revenge on their minds. Of the three 2017 tournaments the Lions played in, they had taken home the trophy in two of them. The only blemish was last year’s 1-2 loss in the final match of the Copa Washington, also hosted at Starfire Sports.

Seattle Sounders star forward, Jordan Morris, meets with the Lions prior to the tournament.

There would not be a repeat let-down this year. With well wishes from Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris, TCAFC roared into the Evergreen Cup tournament.

The team’s first match was on Friday night against the defending Evergreen Premier League (EPLWA) champion, Seattle Stars FC. Despite a four-hour road trip into town, the team showed no fatigue in the match. Seattle opened the scoring midway through the first half, but Jose Irra calmly equalized in the 28th minute via a penalty kick. In the 34th minute, just prior to halftime (the group matches featured 35 minute halves), Vicente Flores gave the Lions a 2-1 lead with a brilliant shot from just inside the box.

The second half of the match was all Tri-Cities Alliance FC. Within a minute of the second half getting underway, Zeke Angeles netted an easy tap in off a beautiful pass into the box to make the score 3-1. In the 44th minute, Vicente Flores was awarded – and buried – a penalty kick to give TCAFC a 4-1 lead. Seattle Stars FC managed to find the net off a set piece header, but Alex Sotelo scored for TCAFC in the match’s final moments. The final score of Match #1 was 5-2 – and that set the stage for the rest of the tournament.

“We saw that as a big challenge,” Ramiro De La Mora, the team’s General Manager, said about facing off against Seattle Stars FC to start the tournament. “We know they didn’t win the EPLWA by chance last year so we wanted to see how well our boys would do with that sort of challenge right off the bat. They stepped up very well. I know this isn’t league play and the Stars will be much tougher when we play them in June but I think our guys will be ready for that match, too.”

Coming into Day 2 of the tournament – and with a double header scheduled for that day – the team had an air of confidence around them. That only grew after Match #2, a 3-0 blanking of Microsoft FC.

The match against Microsoft FC started slow for the Lions. Despite outshooting Microsoft FC 11-2 in the first half – including two shots by Vicente Flores that rattled the woodwork – TCAFC couldn’t break through and went into the half tied at 0-0. That goose egg on the score board didn’t last long, however. Five minutes into the second half, in the 40th minute, Julio Andrade scored with a straight away rocket into the right corner from just inside the box. That got the team going and Lenin Guzman scored shortly thereafter, in the 46th minute, to make it 2-0. And, just to add the cherry on top, Zeke Angeles added his second goal of the tournament to seal the 3-0 victory for Tri-Cities Alliance FC.

The anchors of TCAFC’s stellar defense: (L to R) Bryan Vargas, Gerardo Macias, and Jordan Angeles. Only four goals were conceded by the Lions.

TCAFC’s Jordan Angeles, a defensive force for the team, said this about the team’s defense: “We have played against tough teams and we managed to keep our composure. I told the guys it all starts from the back. Goals win games but defense wins titles!”

Next up for the Lions was another EPLWA match-up – this time against the Oly Town Artesians.

“This match-up is going to be tough,” Zachary Sansom, the team’s Operations Manager, predicted prior to kickoff. “Oly Town is a great team. This has the potential to be a classic match.”

Zachary predicted correctly. In the most exciting and evenly matched contest of the tournament, Match #3 pushed TCAFC to the brink of championship elimination. The first half featured a lot of back-and-forth play with Oly Town controlling the action for the majority of the half, including a goal in the 11th minute. Oly Town took that one goal lead into the half with Tri-Cities Alliance FC needing a draw or win in order to guarantee a spot in the championship match. If the result held, TCAFC would be going home early.

The second half was much of the same. The two teams were still playing hard and playing evenly – and neither could establish the upper hand. The Lions and the Artesians both had excellent chances on goal but neither side converted. As time clicked down, so did the TCAFC hopes of championship redemption. In the final minute of play, with mere seconds on the clock, the Lions got their best chance and Mario Guizar made sure it counted. With literally seconds left, Guizar took a cross into the box and blasted past the Oly Town keeper to give the Lions a 1-1 draw and a trip to the championship match!

Jovan Rojas (L) and Mario Guizar (R) pose together after the draw against the Oly Town Artesians.

When asked about his championship saving goal, Guizar couldn’t contain his excitement. “It felt amazing to take the team to another championship! I am very happy that I was able to come in clutch in the final seconds and take us to the championship match!”

“I kind of felt like Cristiano Ronaldo for a second,” Guizar added with a smile.

“If there’s a second on that clock, don’t count us out,” Head Coach AB Moreno said afterwards. “These boys never quit!”

The team celebrated that night at a local Azteca Mexican Restaurant, but also listened to speeches from head coach AB Moreno and General Manager, Ramiro De La Mora. The theme? Stay focused and be ready for tomorrow’s championship match.

The team listened.

The championship match kicked off at 1pm on Sunday and featured TCAFC against All-Star Moving, a local team made up of talented college and club players from around Seattle. Both teams came into the match with two wins and a draw.

Tri-Cities Alliance FC started the match strong, taking the action right to All-Star Moving and keeping them on their heels. Similar to the match against Microsoft FC, the Lions were getting good looks and outshooting their opponent but couldn’t quite get anything into the net. That is, until Mario Guizar was awarded a penalty kick in the 31st minute for a bad foul in the box by All-Star Moving. Guizar hit the penalty kick and the flood gates opened, as they seem to do for this team. Vicente Flores trickled one past a diving All-Star Moving keeper into the bottom left corner to go up 2-0 in the 39th minute and Alex Sotelo struck just before halftime to give TCAFC a 3-0 halftime lead.

The second half saw the Lions pounce early as Sotelo launched a curving shot from outside the box into the top left corner of the goal for what had to be the goal of the tournament and his second of the match.

Head Coach AB Moreno and his son enjoying a moment with the Evergreen Cup trophy.

“I was calling for the ball and I got it about 35 yards out,” Sotelo explains. “I looked up for a quick second and then just took a rip. It went as top left corner as it could get, right over the keeper. It had that bend and dip to it where I knew as soon as I hit it, it was going to be something special. Definitely a goal I will never forget!”

All-Star Moving added a goal late in the match, but TCAFC cruised to a 4-1 win and took home the Evergreen Cup!

“Our team was willing to expend more energy defensively to recover the ball,” the team’s goalkeeper coach, Jose Herrea, said about the victory. “This led to a higher rate of possession and we were able to take advantage of our substitutions to exhaust the opposing team. Consequently, this led to the other team making several defensive mistakes. This tournament was a steeping stone to figuring out our own potential.”

“Winning the tournament was great because we proved ourselves from last year,” De La Mora said. “The guys were hungry for a second chance and they went out there and proved in on the field.”

The berth in the championship match kept Tri-Cities Alliance FC’s finals streak intact. In the four tournaments that the Lions have competed in, they have reached the final match all four times while taking home three trophies.

Next up for TCAFC is our last friendly of the preseason, against FCM Portland of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) on Friday, April 27th in Portland. Following up that match, we start EPLWA play with an away match at Spokane Shadow on May 5th.