Now, here’s something you don’t see everyday at a soccer game. West Babylon coach Jim McGeough (left) and his Hercules counterpart John Zervas are next to each other behind one of the goals watching play after both men were ejected from the semifinal match. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
One of Michael Lewis’ most memorable indoor tournaments that he covered happened 29 years ago this Monday — at the LISFL tourney in Garden City, N.Y. For the semifinal match of the Division I competition, both coaches were given their marching orders and were forced to watch from behind one of the goals. West Babylon went on to win the tournament, overcoming deficits in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final. Lewis will be returned close to the scene of that tournament at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. to cover the LISFL championship games Sunday. This story was used with permission.
By Michael Lewis
Soccer Week Editor
GARDEN CITY, N.Y. — After his team survived incredible and almost surrealistic quarterfinal and semifinal matches at the Long Island Soccer Football League Indoor Tournament Sunday (Feb. 25), someone asked West Babylon coach Jim McGeough what his team would do for an encore.
He smiled and replied, “We’ll stage a comeback win.”
As it turned out, McGeough wasn’t kidding.
West Babylon came back not once, but twice against Blau-Weis Gottschee Sunday, sending the game into overtime with 10 seconds remaining en route to a 4-3 sudden-death victory and the Division I title at Nassau Community College.
“We have a never-say-die spirit,” McGeough said. “This tournament was destined for us.”
He can thank Michael Smith and Jim Rooney for that. Smith tied the game with 10 seconds left on the clock and Rooney clinched it at 3:31 of the first sudden-death overtime.
It might be difficult to fathom, but there were observers who felt the final would be anti-climactic for West Babylon after what it accomplished in the quarters and semis.
“It was strange,” Smith said. “They were three really taxing games.”
Indeed, they were.
In the first game of the day, West Babylon outlasted the Blue Angels in a marathon penalty-kick tie-break. For the record, the shootout took 16 rebounds. Tournament officials and several soccer observers could not remember a tie-breaker going any long locally.
“I’ve never seen it before,” McGeough said.
Both teams were allowed to use the six remaining field players and goalkeeper in the shootout.
“The exciting part was the penalty kicks because both sides were immovable,” McGeough said.
Finally, in the 16th round, West Babylon defender Steve May converted his third penalty kick. Anthony Siega of the Blue Angels, who already had put away two, kicked in his third try to the left of goalkeeper Dan Callahan, who caught the ball for the save and victory.
It turned out to be the second time Callahan came up big. With the score tied at 1-1 in regulation, he blocked an attempt by the Blue Angels’ Christian Legovich.
“I thought we had the better goalkeeper in Callahan,” McGeough said. “I had him at [SUNY]-Farmingdale and I know how good he is with penalty kicks — taking and stopping then.”
West Babylon, however, was far from finished. In the semifinals, it outlasted Hercules of the Hellenic-American Soccer League, 2-1, on Rooney’s goal at 1:25 of overtime after John Pusateri’s goal with 1:47 remaining in regulation tied it.
But that was only half the story. McGeough, the West Babylon coach, and his Hercules counterpart, John Zervas, watched Rooney score the winning goal from behind of the goals, away from their respective benches. Both had been ejected from the game by referee Mike Gallace.
McGeough was given the heave-ho midway through a scoreless first half after Pusateri was yellow-carded for a foul and assessed a two-minute penalty. Smith argued the call and joined his teammate. McGeough protested and was thrown out.
“There is bad. There is diabolical,” McGeough said. “This is criminal.”
West Babylon manager Dominic LaRocca directed the team the rest of the game. “If it’s my decision, I would pull the team” he said. “It’s totally ridiculous.”
Hercules scored on the ensuing power play.
Zervas joined McGeough behind the protective netting midway through the second half after the Hercules coach wanted to make a substitution.
“I said I wanted to sub,” Zervas said. “He [the referee] said, ‘No, it’s a corner.’ I said I thought it was a throw-in. He said to get out.”
Rooney, who finished things off in the semis, started the final off with a goal 1:11 into the match, but Gottschee’s Patrick Zsanto came back with a 10-yard to Callahan’s lower right at 6:47.
West Babylon could have taken the lead at 9:44, but Gottschee goalkeeper Frank Lackner saved Pusateri’s penalty kick with his left foot as he was diving to his right.
With 32 seconds left in the half, Zarko Ivkovic gave Gottschee a 2-1 lead off a 25-yard bouncer.
Rooney tied it with a 15-yard shot at 5:19 of the second half, but Szanto converted from in close for a 3-2 Gottschee lead at 7:23.
All Gottschee, which was known for its defensive prowess outdoors in the Cosmopolitan Soccer League, had to do was to hold off its LISFL counterparts.
Gottschee was doing such a fine job that as time was slowly ticking away, LaRocca walked away from the West Babylon bench and off the field.
“There’s not much we can do now,” he told an observer.
But Smith did something, ripping a 15-yard shot past Lackner for a 3-3 tie and sudden death.
“I was looking at the clock, something you can’t do outdoors,” Smith said. “I didn’t see the shot go on goal or go in because a defender was in my way. I knew it was in when I heard the cheers.
“I was due a goal. It was my second goal of the tournament.”
Then Rooney took over in overtime, converting this third goal of the match past Lackner from point-point range.
“They were placement shots, not power shot,” he said. “Tony [McGeough] threw the ball into me. I tried a first-time shot and I fanned on it.
“The ball came back to me. I wanted to blast it, but I decided to place it. The percentages were with me there.”