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Citrus United surprises coach with early championship

The team wins tourney in Cocoa, receiving a boost for Region C Cup.

By CAREY FREEMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 24, 2002

Citrus United's goals for the President's Day Cup in Cocoa last week were modest.

The result, however, was pure gold.

With players from several area schools, United was hoping to get a little competition in an effort to jell before next weekend's Region C Cup in Sarasota.

Much to their surprise -- and delight -- the locals did just that and more, taking a trophy from the tune-up event.

"There was no pressure. The main thing was to get ourselves focused and on the same page," coach Steve Ekeli said.

"But the guys really took it to heart. They were a lot more focused than I anticipated," he said.

Citrus United -- comprised of players from Crystal River (8), Citrus (7), Lecanto (2) and Central (1) -- posted a 3-1 record in the tournament, including a thrilling 3-2 victory over Chicago Schawben in Sunday's championship game.

United lost to Schawben earlier in the day, but avenged the 2-1 setback behind goals from 2001 Times Citrus/Hernando Player of the Year Donny Caldwell, his brother, Josh, and Crystal River defender Kyle Griffin.

Josh Caldwell, who scored the lone goal in the earlier game, gave United a 2-0 lead with a booming, one-timer late in the first half.

Schawben tied it with two quick second-half scores, but Griffin pulled it out for United with a 70th-minute goal that gave the team a major confidence boost.

The winner of the Region C Cup will qualify for the Florida Youth Soccer Association President's Cup in April.

The President's Cup is the state championship for Division II squads.

"I think our chances are really good to make it to the next round," Ekeli said.

"Our under-19 and under-16 teams were knocked out early last year, and they've got something to prove. The guys are ready to go."

Ekeli got a close look at his club's collective heart in last Saturday's tourney opener.

United fell behind 2-0 to the Hicksville (N.Y.) All-Stars, but rallied for three goals in the final 20 minutes to stay in the title hunt.

Citrus' Eddie Warden started the scoring binge, and Crystal River's Robbie Newsome produced the tying goal.

Yet it was the insertion of Citrus' Matt Wilt, who scored the winner, that got things going.

"That got everything started," Ekeli said.

"He had fresh legs, and we needed to get him out there. He really started churning things up and confused their defense.

"He made good runs and pulled defenders out of space," the coach said. "He was in the game 2 minutes and we scored."

United won its next game with ease, besting Titusville United 8-1 behind two-goal efforts from Donny Caldwell, Kyle Nayfield and Central's Tim Woods. Eddie Warden and Griffin also scored.

Ekeli praised Citrus goalkeeper Matt Farrell and Crystal River defender Matt Ryals.

"I said to Matt after the game, "I'm glad they're not making me give out an MVP because it would have to be you or Farrell,' " Ekeli said.

"(Farrell) kept us in every game and came up with one big save after another."

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