Fresh off their first home playoff win in their first ever playoff game, South Georgia Tormenta FC has a new first they’d like to achieve – first road playoff win.
Tormenta FC will have their chance as they travel to Greenville, SC to face the Greenville Triumph in the semifinals of the USL1 playoffs tonight at 7:30.
The Triumph have been among the league’s best teams since the start of play in 2019, finishing no lower than third in the regular season standings over the past four years. In 2020 Greenville was the top team in the regular season and won the title that year as well.
“Greenville Triumph have been one of the top two teams USL1 since its inception. They are the gold standard,” said Ian Cameron, Tormenta head coach, following their quarterfinal win last week. “We’re going in to the lion’s den. We’re going to an extremely talented group with an exceptional coach, but with this group, anything is possible and we fancy our chances.”
Defender Josh Phelps was Tormenta’s first professional player signed in 2018 and has been with the club since 2016 when it was a semi-professional team. He said it was a relief to finally break through and make the playoffs.
“I believe over the years we’ve had the tools in our belt to make the playoffs and to be able to go on a run with some really good teams but we haven’t been able to pull it together (until this year),” he said.
South Georgia and Greenville played three times in the regular season with Tormenta winning twice and the teams playing a memorable 5-5 draw that saw Tormenta come back from being down 5-2 at halftime with three goals in the second half.
“They’re a really good team and they’ve shown that they’ve got the pieces of the puzzle and what it takes to win the whole thing,” Phelps said. “It’s going to be a high octane game.”
The game will feature two of the top six scoring teams in the league with Tormenta scoring 44 goals on the season while Greenville has scored 40. The Triumph led the league in shots this season with 417 while Tormenta had 383 shots on goal.
Greenville is led offensively, by Jacob Labovitz and his 12 goals on the season. Aaron Walker and Allen Gavilanes each added four goals on the year for the Triumph.
“They’re going to cross a lot of balls into the box and they’re going to put a lot of pressure on our back line and on our keeper,” Phelps said. “They’re going to want to play in our half.”
Tormenta, offensively, is led by Kazaiah Sterling’s 15 goals on the season, good for second best in the league and Kingsford Adjei’s seven goals.
Despite the fruitful offenses, both teams are also able to clamp down opposing offenses. Greenville had 10 shutouts on the season while Tormenta had nine.
Tormenta goalkeeper TJ Bush said that while Greenville presents some challenges, the key for South Georgia is to remain focused on what they do well.
“I think, as a unit, we know our identity,” he said. “I don’t feel we have to change a lot from team to team because we know what we’re good at and what our strengths and weaknesses are. No matter what the other teams throw at us, I think we are prepared for it.
Phelps credited the coaching staff with recruiting and signing talented players who also fit in with the team.
“They were looking not just at the on-the-field stuff, but also how they were going to fit in our locker room and how they were going to fit in our culture.”
One of those midseason signings for Tormenta was midfielder Mukwelle Akale who joined Tormenta in late August and has added a spark to the offense with a goal and an assist on the year.
“I really didn’t know what to expect when I came here,” Akale said of joining Tormenta. “Everybody was so close and the friendships were really strong, but they welcomed me to the team like a family right away.
Akale wasn’t a member of Tormenta when the teams played earlier this season so he’s only seen them on film but feels that the training sessions have been good this week.
“We’re working hard, focused on what we can do,” he said.
Phelps said he’s excited for the chance to go on the road into a hostile environment with a spot in the championship on the line.
“It’s really easy to have a siege mentality where it’s the city, the club and everyone against you there in Greenville. It’s one of your rivals and a team that’s capable and has gone all the way and won a trophy. So it’s that real feeling of us against the world.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 and can be streamed online with an ESPN+ subscription