Two Freedom Soccer Club youth travel teams came from different places to try their hand in November's Fallston Cup soccer tournament.
Its under-11 Thunder boys squad came into Fallston on a roll. Its girls under-10 Chaos girls squad was dragging a five-game losing streak behind it.
But none of that mattered when all was finished. Both of them were Fallston Cup champions.
This had been a big fall season for the Thunder. It had already won the Central Maryland Soccer Association's (CMSA) Class B Challenge South Division championship with a 7-0-1 record. That marked its third consecutive CMSA title. It won its CMSA league this past spring and also in fall, 2016.
Thunder assistant coach Jeff Stauffer held the Fallston tourney in high regard because of the strong competition he felt it offered. That was even more true this year because tournament organizers placed the Thunder, a Class B travel team, in a Class A bracket with even stronger opponents than usual.
While its record of 0-1-1 wasn't great, it was good enough to qualify the Thunder for the Nov. 19 semifinals.
There, they acted more thunder-like.
Against the Fallston Flames in the semifinal match, midfielder Jackson Barioto broke a scoreless tie midway through the second half with a scoring shot from 30 yards out in front. Late in the game, Owen Stauffer scored a second goal on a corner kick assisted by Barioto, and his team won 2-0.
The championship game matched Freedom with the Northern Elite Fire, a team it had tied in CMSA play earlier in the fall.
However, Stauffer said his boys were ready for this one.
"We'd played them earlier, and we knew we could play well against them if we played our brand of soccer. We'd been in (the Fallston Cup finals) before, and we wanted to finish it off this time. We wanted to take that cup, and we didn't want to leave anything on the table this time," he said.
However the joy of winning it didn't come easy, and certainly not quickly. The championship match was scoreless after regulation.
But three minutes into the overtime period, Barioto was again the hero. He fired a 35-yarder into the left corner of the net to win the title 1-0.
Stauffer thinks the players improved that second day because they were challenged by top-notch teams in the championship round.
"That raised our level of play and level of focus for sure. The boys came out ready to play in every game. When it was over, the Fallston Cup championship was very gratifying for the kids," he said.
Unlike the Thunder, Freedom's girls under-10 Chaos squad hadn't been particularly successful during the fall season. It had finished 3-4-1 in the CMSA, .500 in one tournament and winless in the Columbia Fall Classic.It would go to Fallston on a five-game losing streak.
At that point, head coach Tyler Murr was open to suggestions, and team trainer Rachel Campanaro offered one.
Murr related that,"she suggested that we go from two in back on defense to three in the back, and then the defense could control the ball (better) and get it to the offense. After getting shellacked five games in a row we were willing to try it."
The team was preparing for the Fallston Cup, and the change came just in time. The Chaos played in Bracket B for pool play which was held Nov. 11.
The locals opened against Fallston Soccer which had beaten them in an earlier CMSA match.This time was different as Freedom blanked Fallston 4-0.
It led only 1-0 at halftime, but the newly re-organized defense kept it ahead.
"Our goalie and our defense were outstanding. Then after the half, we ran away with it," Murr said.
Game two of pool play was against Parkville United which had tied the Chaos in their CMSA meeting. The teams were tied 1-1 at halftime, but Freedom broke the tie late to win 2-1. The defense again held off the opposition.
The 2-0 record put Freedom in the semifinals against the Harford FC United Thunder.
Chaos won that one 4-0, putting it in the championship match against Fallston Soccer for a re-match.
The final proved to be a lot tougher than the first game had been.Fallston scored early, and Freedom tied it 1-1 at halftime. The thing stayed that way into overtime period. The Chaos then put a quick end to it.
"They got the ball first, we took at back and then scored 20 or 30 seconds into overtime," Murr said.
The 2-1 win gave his girls the championship.
"And they're still flying high," Murr said.
He credited the team's improved defense for much of its improvement on the field. However, he also credited the camaraderie that he and team assistant coaches Brian Hoey and Century High freshman varsity soccer player Ella Hollinger helped instill.
"Our improvement boiled down to a lot of things other than soccer.The girls cared about each other, and they played together as a team.Half the team was new this year, and they learned to play with the new players," Murr said.
The good fortune has continued since Fallston, Freedom is 3-0 in its under-10 winter league at the Carroll Indoor Sports Center.