The Plant City Lancers soccer team was just hoping for a good showing at the Tampa Bay Sun Bowl, a prestigious tournament that draws entrants from around the country.
Much like the Lancers players, that approach turned out to be a bit humble. To phrase it not so humbly: they absolutely destroyed everyone in their path.
Playing against a team from Louisville, Ky., on New Year's Eve, the Lancers Premier Under 17 team rolled to a 9-3 victory. That would be 9-3 in the championship game of an elite-level tournament.
"Some teams aren't used to playing against our style, it's pretty unique at this level," Stephen Rossiter, the team's head coach, said. "We play a possession game, sometimes we'll pass it 30 to 40 times before taking a shot. Combine that with going up against a less athletic team, and the result can tend to be 9-3."
Plant City did run into some more athletic teams and those victims merely lost by scores of 4-0, 4-0 and 6-0. The event was at J.C. Handley Sports Complex in South Brandon Dec. 28-31.
Omar Castro was named tournament MVP and it's no wonder. Castro, a junior at Plant City High School, and is coveted by none other than the U.S. Men's National Team.
And he has turned them down. Castro's dream is to play professionally in Europe and, with the help of the Lancers, has spent time overseas taking in the pro game in various countries. Next up is a trip to Germany in a few weeks.
"Omar is very humble too, he works hard, does a lot of community work. And he has a 3.8 GPA," Rossiter said.
Though Castro is the unquestioned star he has plenty of talented cohorts with the Lancers. Aldo Lopez is the leading goal scorer and Simon Vue is a big playmaker.
And if you're wondering, shouldn't the Plant City Raider boys soccer team have some of these players on it . . . the answer is tricky.
"It's just too difficult to do both," Rossiter said. "We train five nights a week and so to play for both teams, and keep up on your school work it's tough. But they've all chosen not to play for the high school, we don't prevent them from it."
Training is a high priority for the Under 17 boys, as evidenced by their demanding to practice on Thanksgiving Day despite Rossiter trying to give them the day off.
They did take a whole two days off after the Sun Bowl, after all.
In early March, the Lancers will try and earn a second consecutive impressive trophy when they take part in the State Cup.
"We figured the Sun Bowl would be good competition and would allow us to see where we stand heading into the State Cup," said Rossiter. "So to win it like we did was not expected. But it wasn't completely shocking, either."
The Plant City Football Club, or PCFC, as the Lancers organization has come to be known, has 11 boys and four girls teams.
The full roster of the Sun Bowl champion squad: forwards Aldo Lopez, Arturo Rodriguez, Juan Rosales, Simon Vue; midfielders Omar and Ivan Castro, Gerardo Del Carmen, Fransisco Ramos, Saul Vergara; defenders Serbando Aguilar, Ivan Chavez, Alejando Duero, Pedro Espinal, Luis Morales-Rodriguez; goalkeeper Chase Story; utility players Ivan Cortez and Adolfo Peraza.
Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]