Irvine Strikers was seconds away from letting the Cal South State Cup Presidents Youngers Division Championship trophy slip away to Total Futbol Academy in the final on Sunday morning at the SilverLakes Sports Complex. But in the last play in regulation time, Strikers coach Gustav Gratzer’s bench exploded as the team tied the game up 2-2 through a last second free kick and send the game to overtime.
In overtime, and battling through heavy winds, Coach Gratzer’s players got the job done, earning a 3-2 win over their TFA counterparts, and his first State Championship in the 18 years as a coach.
“It was intense,” coach Gratzer said after the game. “We knew from the get-go that it was going to be a tough game against TFA. We have played them once before, but we knew championship games are different. When the wind started blowing, we knew it was going to be pretty much a bar fight, it’s a battle, who wants it more is going to win.”
For the two years that this team has been together, the players and their families have been through it all. After losing one player to the age group change, the team continued to grow closer together, increasing their chemistry, something that coach Gratzer points out to be the drive behind their success in this edition of the Cal South State Cup.
“The kids, they like being with each other. The families like being with each other, no big egos on the team,” coach Gratzer said as he described the team. “There’s no one that walks around like they own the place. I’m not worried about losing players, they want to play for Strikers, they want to play for each other and I think that shows on the field when balls are going out of bounds, they’re chasing, when guys are getting kicked, they’re protecting, picking them up and we’re moving on.”
Through the 18 years that coach Gratzer has been on the bench leading teams in countless of games in numerous venues and competitions, coach Gratzer has seen it all. But when it comes to competing in Cal South tournament’s, or against Southern California teams, he’s well aware that the stakes and expectations are higher, as the competition rises.
“It’s always good, Cal South has the best [competition],” he said. “Every year we go to Regionals and it’s Cal South dominating. Orange County is the hotbed. We deal, in the Academy, with having in a 30-mile radius, 10 of the best teams around. It’s very competitive and Cal South has always been the best from back when I was playing a long time ago.”