Metros U-16s win historic national title

TAMPA,Fla. - The MetroStars U-16s won the club's first national championship Tuesday, beating Santa Clara 2-1 in the championship game of the North American Finals off a dramatic Johnny Exantus goal in overtime.

Giovanni Savarese, director of player development programs for the MetroStars, found it hard to describe how happy he was for the team.

"There are no words to desrcribe right now how proud I feel," he said. "For the first time that the MetroStars started, this is the first time we've won a title."

The MetroStars came out to a fast start, and dominated play in the first half. The entire first half was played in the Santa Clara end. It was an extremely windy afternoon, and it helped that the MetroStars were able to attack toward the wind. Defender Anthony Vasquez was solid in the back, like a wall defending the halfway line.

Exantus penetrated the Santa Clara defense at will, often requiring two or three defenders just to slow him down.

In the 22nd minute the MetroStars struck first through team captain Gabriel Ferrari. Ferrari was able to break through the Santa Clara defense, and he struck a strong shot with his right foot 15 yards out.

The goal was especially rewarding for Ferrari, whose mother had had just arrived in a surprise visit to Tampa to watch the championship game.

In the second half, play was more even, with the MetroStars still able to keep play in the Santa Clara end. As the half wore on, signs of Santa Clara's frustration showed as they received a yellow card in the 59th minute for kicking the ball into the net after the whistle.

Santa Clara was finally able to capitalize on their counterattack in the 64th minute when the caught the MetroStars' defense off guard. The offense flew up the right side of the field and a Santa Clara player was able to get off a hard shot with his right foot that went in just inside the far post.

Both teams were tense going into the overtime sessions. In the first overtime the two teams were very cautious, content to possess the ball in the neutral zone.

The second overtime started similar to the first overtime, and it seemed as if the championship would be decided with penalty kicks. However in the final minutes of the second overtime, Ferrari received a pass from the middle of the field and passed the ball to Exantus. Exantus broke through the middle of the field, slipped by a defender, and poked the ball past the 'keeper to the far post.

After the final whistle blew a minute later, the entire MetroStars bench ran onto the field to celebrate.

In the awards presentation, each player received a gold medal for the club's victory and Ferrari was presented with the tournament MVP award. When the championship trophy was presented to the players, they each took time to kiss the trophy and pose for pictures.

Assistant coach Vadim Kirillov was relieved the youth team finally won a championship after going to two previous finals without winning.

"Finally we did it," he said. "Third time is the charm. Now we're North American Champions. Hopefully it's the first of many more to come."

Head coach Paul O'Donnell was ecstatic with the result, and relieved the championship was theirs.

"We definitely made it difficult today," he said. "This is probably one of the most exiting games I've ever been part of. I don't think there's a better way to pull it out than the last minute of extra time."

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