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Benefield: Atletico’s under-19 team wins national soccer title

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Watching video of the game highlights a few days after it occurred, a viewer can see a pause the moment Charlie Janssen stands up. He’s just dived to his right, blocking the ball’s trajectory into the goal.

He jumps to his feet and for just a second he doesn’t move.

“I had no idea we won,” he said. “I kind of lost track of the sequence. When I blocked it I thought we had to kick again but then the guys were rushing toward me.”

The guys in question are Santa Rosa Bayern, Santa Rosa Atletico’s premier under-19 team, and the thing they won was the U.S. Soccer National Cup Championship in Commerce City, Colorado, last week.

“It was instantly emotional,” he said. “It’s the highest level of competition that you are able to get to and you win it.”

Forgive Janssen, a 2019 graduate of Analy who is headed to UC Davis to play soccer, for getting a little lightheaded in the moment. After all, after Bayern emerged from the gauntlet of NorCal State Cup competition to earn the right to contend for a national title, they had to play five games in five days in heat that reached nearly 100 degrees and in altitude that none of the Sonoma County guys were used to.

“The altitude, it’s very rough,” coach Oscar De Niz said. “The weather was very extreme. It ranged from 95 to 103 degrees every day and we played at 4 p.m. every day.”

But Bayern didn’t make it easy on themselves.

In five games, they fell behind by pretty large margins twice. They beat Florida’s best 3-1 in the first game, beat a team from New Hampshire 1-0 next before tying New York’s Met Oval 1-1. In the semifinal, Bayern fell behind Central Illinois United 2-0.

“We fought back,” Zack Batchelder, the North Bay League-Oak Division player of the year who will be a senior at Montgomery High, said. “We just got goal after goal. I scored three and we were winning by halftime and just dominated the rest of the way.”

They won the semifinal 4-2.

“These guys never give up. They are very resilient,” De Niz said.

The definition of resilience might be this: Just one game after falling behind 2-0 before clawing back, Bayern was down 3-0 to LGN United from New York — in the first half of the final Tuesday. That’s about as deep a hole as you can create in soccer.

United got a goal just before half when Alan Sanchez, a Santa Rosa High grad who is headed to Santa Rosa Junior College, converted a penalty kick.

“(United) was very fast. It took us a bit of time to adjust to the type of play,” De Niz said. “They were compact, it was hard to penetrate. We made some adjustments in the second half and it paid off.”

They also reminded each other that after years as teammates, this was the last half of soccer they’d ever play together. Every member of the squad, barring Batchelder, just graduated from high school.

In the 77th minute, Victor Vargas, a homeschooled high school grad who is headed to SRJC, brought the score to 3-2 and in the 85th minute, it was Sanchez again with another penalty to tie the game and send it into overtime.

“I felt like the momentum was all on our side,” Sanchez said. “The other team, they kind of like sat back and I looked over at the bench when regular time was over and their heads were down and they were all looking sad.”

Being on the wrong end of a 3-0 comeback in less than 45 minutes will do that to you.

But neither team could score in overtime so it went to penalty kicks.

And Bayern, who had subbed goalkeepers two times in the game, made another move.

“I told (De Niz) straight up, I want to take leadership here,” Janssen said of his conversation with his coach.

Janssen had come in for the starting goalkeeper about 10 minutes into the game, but was himself subbed out deep into the second half. Janssen return at the end of the second OT period.

“ ‘I have been training 10 years for this exact moment. I think I have what it takes to make this win happen,’ ” Janssen said he told his coach. “He said, ‘OK, go warm up.’ ”

“Charlie is super tall and athletic,” De Niz said of Janssen. Perfect for PKs.

Both sides converted all five of their first-round attempts. After that it was sudden death. If one team misses and another makes it, game over.

And Santa Rosa, with their seventh shooter, missed.

Then New York’s shooter hit the crossbar. Still tied.

“It was very dramatic,” De Niz said.

In the eighth spot, Kevin Lira, a Casa Grande grad who is going to SRJC, scored for Santa Rosa. And sometime before this moment, Janssen lost track of the shooters. He just knew he had to stop one.

“I feel like they put him in there because he’s a tall guy, with long arms and really good at PKs,” Sanchez said. “He can dive fast and reach. If the ball is really close to the post, he can maybe get it … the team had confidence he can block one.”

And he needed to block just one.

Janssen said he’s been coached over the years not to guess and go. He has been taught to read the kicker’s body and dive when he knows which way the ball is headed. On Tuesday, he knew that eighth kicker was going to his right. The ball was about thigh high and Janssen used both hands to block it down into the grass.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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