The Bandits of 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, and the Legion of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5th Special Forces Group kicked off this fall’s battalion-level soccer tournament Tuesday at Fryar Stadium.
The tournament is hosted by Fort Campbell Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
This early in the season, some teams are struggling to garner the participation needed to compete in the tournament. Five players from each team must be present at game time to play. Tuesday, the 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. games were canceled because teams were noncompliant.
At 7 p.m., the Bandits turned out with a full bench of about 15 Soldier-athletes. Across the field, HHC 5th SFG stood with five players, just barely meeting the requirement. Sgt. Thomas Eatherly, HHC 5th SFG team captain, said having so few players was detrimental to their game play.
“Most of us were gone last year, so I don’t think we had a team compete [in the tournament], but a few years before that we had a nice, big team. We do not have that this year,” Eatherly said.
In 2016 and 2017, HHC 5th SFG brought home trophies from the spring battalion-level soccer tournament. This will be a rebuilding year for the team, Eatherly said.
Within the first 10 minutes of the game, Legion already showed signs of struggle. The players attempted, but failed to mark up on many of the Bandits, which made their goal vulnerable. Having a goalkeeper in the net without any prior experience added to the Legion’s challenges, Eatherly said.
At the 10-minute mark, a sixth teammate from HHC 5th SFG, Spc. Melvin Tamfu, scrambled onto the field to help out.
“For the first 20 minutes of the game we weren’t even playing actual positions. We were just filling in where we knew some of the stronger opponent players would be,” Eatherly said.
The Bandits scored two goals in the first half of the game – the first by Spc. Jorge Trigueros and the second by Spc. Mason Krause. Throughout the first half, the Bandits steadily rotated players from the sideline, to keep fresh legs on the field. Spc. Arnold Bonomo, 1-32nd CAV team captain, said this gave them an advantage over their opponent.
Much of the game play in the first half was spent near Legion’s goal. However, as the half came to a close, Tamfu gained control over the ball and maneuvered it down into Bandit territory. Despite the Bandits’ defensive efforts, Legion scored twice in the first half.
Both teams found their footing in the first half and came back from the 5-minute halftime ready to claim a victory. Straight out of the gate, Spc. Christian Cook, 1-32nd CAV, ran for the ball and pushed it toward Legion’s goal. With an assist from Trigueros, Cook scored his first goal of the game.
Cook, center-striker, said the goal was unexpected, but exciting.
“I was out on the sideline and me and [Trigueros] kind of alternated positions. I came out wide, he kind of looped around me … I played the ball to the inside and it looked like I had a decent lane to make a run on, and [Trigueros] played the ball – honestly it was like the perfect pass. When I came through it was like one-on-one between me and the goal keeper. I cut to his inside and he got some fingertips to [the ball], but it deflected and landed in the goal.”
This is Cook’s second year competing with the Bandits for the tournament. Last year, he and the Bandits dominated the fall battalion-level soccer tournament, making them back-to-back champions.
“Winning back-to-back is great, we are going to enjoy this victory and hopefully get to get three-in-a-row next season,” said Krause in an interview with the Courier last year.
Last year, Cook scored nine goals for the team, while Krause sunk 13 balls into the net.
As the second half continued, the referees shouted how many minutes were left in the game. Legion scored a goal, giving them hope they could tie it up. With less than three minutes in the game, Legion pushed themselves to the breaking point, attempting to score. However, they were unsuccessful. In the final couple of minutes, Krause scored his second goal of the game bringing the score to 4-3, when the referees blew the whistle.
Even with six players, Bonomo said Legion were a worthy opponent who made the team use more advanced skills such as heading, chest bumping and intricate footwork to prevail. Many of the Bandits are experienced soccer players – some played at the collegiate level and a few play for the Fort Campbell Soccer Club. About half of the team is comprised of returning players.
“We have a very competitive team this year,” Bonomo said. “Now that we have a core team who is committed, we are going to start practicing more often. We will be working with our new players so we can learn what positions they are good at and what other skills they can develop.”
Eatherly said two of the Legion teammates have soccer experience. The rest are new to the game.
“We will be better prepared for the next game,” he said. “In the past, we never were a team big on practicing, but I think this year we are going to have to be. We have a lot to learn.”
The next round of games will be played Tuesday at Fryar Stadium, 5666 Wickham Ave.
At 7 p.m., HHC 5th SFG will compete against 101st Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade, 101st Abn. Div. The Bandits will face off against 39th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Abn. Div., at 8 p.m.