After 20 matches played over 10 months in the US Club Midwest Developmental League, the U14 Gateway Division Title and the automatic berth the MDL Play-offs awarded to the winner came down to one match: SLSG Metro 14 PA v SLSG Missouri ’98 PA. The top of the Gateway Division table at kick-off was a bottle-neck with SLSG Metro at 24 points, Sporting KC at 24 points and SLSG MO on 23 points. A win for either SLSG team would secure the division title which added an additional element of intensity on top of what is always a spirited affair when the Missouri and Illinois sides face-off.
The first half was an even affair with a lot of midfield play and few chances for either team. Clayton Pearson (Edwardsville, IL) had the best chance of the half in the 8th minute after a knock down from a corner kick, but was well saved by the SLSG MO goalkeeper. SLSG MO had a better start to the second half and had the Illinois side pinned in for 10-15 minutes; however, SLSG Metro managed to wrestle control back midway through the half and found the first and only goal of the match in the 64th minute after a short restart freed Riley Patterson (Edwardsville, IL) for a shot from 22 yards which he laced along ground and in off the inside of the far post. SLSG Metro applied great pressure following Patterson’s goal, but Gus Phelps (O’fallon, IL) was denied a second goal by the goalkeeper in the 67th minute and Austin Toby’s (Edwardsville, IL) half volley from 25 yards dropped just over the cross bar in 71st minute. SLSG MO, however, continued to battle and, after absorbing some pressure after the goal, were able to get a foothold back in the game creating two chances late, one in the 77th minute and one in stoppage time, that required two phenomenal saves for SLSG Metro goalkeeper, Gage Steiner (Alton, IL).
The win placed SLSG Metro atop the Gateway Division with 27 points. According to coach Blake Decker, “Qualifying for the play-offs in back to back seasons was the main goal this team set for itself, however, all along the guys believed they had the ability to do this by winning the division. We had two poor results against division opponents in the fall, which made a first place finish very difficult, but even so, when we set our goals for the spring back in February the guys were emphatic that winning the division be a primary goal. On the surface, it looks like it came down to 80 minutes in one match, however, the reality is there was a tremendous amount of work these players put in over the past year to get to that point and the club is extremely proud of their character and commitment.”
The team will now focus its’ attention to preparing for the MDL play-offs which will be held in Waukegan, Illinois June 29th-July 1st. SLSG Metro will open up their MDL Play-Off campaign versus Internationals who hail from Cleveland, Ohio. The event is a single elimination set up between the top 8 teams from across the Midwest who will be competing for a chance to represent the Midwest Developmental League at the US Club Champions Cup, which will be held in Colorado during July.