Sickles is missing in action. Sort of.
Though clearly a team not lacking depth, the Gryphons are missing six regular starters due to the holiday break, yet found a way to advance to the championship match of the 10th Annual Winter Classic Tournament hosted by Ridgewood. Their 2-0 win against Clearwater on Tuesday evening sealed a match up with Pompano Beach Blanche Ely, which defeated Pinellas Park 2-0 and handed the Patriots their first loss of the season.
"It's a good opportunity to get the younger guys some playing time, though we're not attacking as much because I've had to adjust (the line up) so much," Sickles coach Antonio Clavo said. "We still did fairly well because we've got enough depth that we've made it this far."
The Gryphons (10-3-3), which lost 17 seniors from last season, regularly restocks the roster, including Juan Rodriguez, who scored his seventh goal of the season just 10 minutes into the game for the 1-0 lead. Sickles added its second goal in the 40th minute, when Leo Pressman scored his first goal of the season with a chip shot over the keeper's head.
The Tornadoes (4-8-2), who play in a tough 5A-11 district with the likes of Seminole and East Lake, struggled in the first half, yet turned up the pressure in the second, especially in the last five minutes.
Amongst the numerous chances were when Clearwater hit a free kick off the cross bar, then missed the rebound that skirted past Sickles' keeper and had a shot hit the left goal post with less than 30 seconds left in the game.
Tornadoes coach Anne Perkul said her team didn't show up to the game at first.
"We waited till the second half to play together, which just won't work when we sit back and don't play until the second half," Pekrul said. "I think we outplayed them a lot in the second half, yet we waited 40 minutes to do it, which was just too late for any team out there."
Earlier, Blanche Ely (5-6-2) continued its winning ways, knocking off yet another team with a better record, as forward Kemberlyn Jean-Etienne (cq) scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season on Pinellas Park (9-1).
"We have got to be the best team with a losing record," Tigers coach Concepcion Ledezma (cq) said, referring to the tough schedule that included a 1-0 loss to the state-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas. "We have tough competition and an even tougher schedule."
Blanche Ely, which is made of 20 Haitian players that can be heard calling to each other in Creole, has played at least four undefeated teams this season, but finds itself in the championship in its first year of the tournament.
In the first game Tuesday, host Ridgewood (6-10) knocked off East Bay 3-1, getting two goals from leading scorer Travis Lord (12) and one from Devon Graziano. In the second game, Alonso blew away Central 6-0, and today the Bears will face East Bay, while the Rams take on Alonso at 1 and 3 p.m., respectively.
Pinellas Park and Clearwater will face off at 5 p.m. for the third-place match.