The league championship was won by the Central Coast Roadrunners as they defeated the Cocoa Expos 2-1 at Mustang Stadium on the campus of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.
Joe Munoz scored for Central Coast in the first half and Craig Tomlinson added the second goal with five minutes left. Cocoa’s Wally Senk brought Cocoa back within a goal with two minutes to play, but the Roadrunners held on. The Expos played the final 41 minutes down a man after Tom Lemmon was sent off for a hand ball.
In the game just prior to the championship, the San Gabriel Valley Highlanders defeated the Mid Michigan Bucks 3-2 in the Third Place Game. Tigran Mkrtchyan, Roni DerSarkissian and Arshak Abyanli scored for the Highlanders while Mike Rawlins and Paul Snape tallied for the Bucks.
Ironically, the wins by Central Coast and San Gabriel Valley meant that the final order of finish at the national championship tournament was directly opposite from the seedings. Mid Michigan had been seeded first coming into the tournament, followed by the Highlanders, Cocoa and Central Coast.
The Roadrunners, who were 13-5 in league playoff games through two years, won the 1996 title in Cocoa, Fla. in their first season. Central Coast went 34-9 under coach Dan Tobias over the two years in league and playoff games.
Cocoa, which was playing in its fourth straight championship tournament since joining the league, settle for its second second-place finish in three years.
Munoz was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. He had a goal and an assist, and was the tournament’s outstanding playmaker, setting up numerous attacks for the Roadrunners. His goal in the championship game was one of the top goals of the tournament.
Cocoa outshot Central Coast 12-8 in the championship game and 7-3 in the first half, forcing Roadrunner goalkeeper Alan Beilke to make four saves before the intermission. But the Roadrunners got on the scoreboard first, as Just Pearce took the ball down the left side and sent a cross in and found Munoz at the top of the penalty area. Munoz took a few touches to the right and lifted the ball over charging goalkeeper Jeremy Ransom, who met him at the right edge of the penalty area. The shot rebounded off the post and into the goal.
Cocoa had threatened earlier but Beilke stopped both chances, saving a low shot from Wally Senk and collecting Christian Uhre’s 12-yard shot from the left two minutes earlier. However, Beilker made the save of the game by being in the right position when Eddie Enders hit a six-yard shot that deflected off a defender and right into the arms of Beilke.
The outcome may have turned on an incident that occurred early in the second half. Central Coast’s Mario Sanchez, took a corner kick that came to Munoz, who hit a left-footed blast from the top of the arc. Expos defender Tommy Lemmon reached up with his hand and batted the ball away, preventing a sure goal. Lemmon was shown a red card and sent off. Munoz took the ensuing penalty and Ransom kept Cocoa’s playoff hopes alive with a diving save to his right. But the Expos had to play the rest of the game with a one-man disadvantage.
It got interesting near the end, when Beilke was called for a hand ball outside the penalty area on the right with less than two minutes left in the game. Senk hit a left-footed rocket that deflected slightly off the wall and into the goal. It was only the second goal allowed by Beilke in five championship tournament games over the last two years.
The Expos were unable to get off another shot prior to the final whistle and had to settle for another second-place finish.
The league recognized Lester Felician of the Jackson Chargers as the Most Valuable Player. Felician, a midfielder, dished out a league-high 15 assists and led his team to the Mid-South Division Championship. The Chargers also led the league in scoring with 50 goals over the season.
Also recognized as part of the PDSL All-League team were Adam Beilke (Central Coast), Mali Walton (Mid Michigan), Craig Demmin (Jackson), Caleb Porter (Kalamazoo), Paul Snape (Mid Michigan), Clay Harty (Central Coast), Dave Berto (Spokane), Brian Adams (Omaha), Fitzgerald Haig (Cocoa) and Rodrigo Costa (Detroit).