Despite entering the weekend as the No. 4 seed and wildcard out of the Southeast Division, The Villages SC took down undefeated hosts South Georgia Tormenta FC and Southeast Division champ SIMA Aguilas on their way to the Southern Conference title.
In their initial semifinal match, The Villages SC matched up against undefeated Deep South Division champion - and host for the weekend - Tormenta FC. In a concerted defensive effort, the wildcard underdog shutout the No. 1 seed from the Southern Conference, scoring the lone goal to secure advancement to Saturday's final and stun the home crowd in Statesboro.
Their win set up a rematch with Southeast Division rivals SIMA Aguilas, who narrowly edged The Villages for the title ahead of the playoffs. Entering the match, The Villages had been the only team to score more than one goal against SIMA all year - drawing them and then beating them 2-0 during regular season play - and that remained true in the final, as the wildcard side struck twice to defeat the Aguilas 2-1 in extra time.
Here's a full recap of the weekend's action at the Southern Conference Championship.
The Aguilas entered the first semifinal on Friday in a match-up against Mid South Division winner Brazos Valley Cavalry F.C. While the Aguilas had been a formidable defensive side all year, Brazos entered the match on one of the best hot-streaks league-wide. But ultimately, it was SIMA's offense that got the job done early, scoring twice in the first half through Angel Espana and Leo Novaes to take a 2-0 lead into the break. Brazos struck back shortly after the second half kicked off, scoring in the 46th minute through Marcelo Palomino, but were unable to find a breakthrough equalizer and ultimately fell, 2-1, securing advancement for SIMA.
29' - SMA - Espana (Santos)
35' - SMA - Novaes
46' - BVC - Palomino (Elvira Paita)
Man of the Match - Leonardo Novaes, SIMA Aguilas
After SIMA took the lead early, it was clear more than one goal would be needed to fend off a fierce Brazos Valley attack. Novaes strike, SIMA's second goal, ultimately proved the winner and his 90 minutes of effort locked up the result.
The second semifinal of the night featured the undefeated hosts Tormenta FC - on the heels of their first Deep South Division title - competing against No. 4 seed wildcard The Villages SC. Whether it was due to a lack of playoff experience - Tormenta FC were making their first appearance in the PDL playoffs - compared to The Villages SC, or the latter's underdog mentality, the Southeast Division runner-up pulled off a stunning upset, with Felipe Antonio's 34th minute strike the only goal on the night, securing a win and advancement.
34' - VIL - Antonio
Man of the Match - Felipe Antonio, The Villages SC
With a special shout out to Timothy McGlynn, as the goalkeeper had three crucial saves in a clean sheet performance, Antonio's 34th minutes strike made the difference and send The Villages SC through to the final.
After their respective victories in Friday's semifinals, the Southern Conference final on Saturday was an all-Southeast Division affair between the SIMA Aguilas and The Villages SC. The Aguilas struck first early on a stunning free kick from defender Moussa Gueye from about 35 yards out, aiming to set the tone. The Villages SC, however, battled back instantly, scoring through Leonardo Paiva in the 21st minute to equalize. The two teams went scoreless the rest of regulation, forcing extra time. It was Alvaro Macias Raimundo who knocked in the winner in the 104th minute, assisted by Paiva, that would be enough to see The Villages SC through the final 15 minutes to secure the Southern Conference Championship.
17' - SMA - Gueye
21' - VIL - Paiva
104' - VIL - Macias Raimundo (Paiva)
Man of the Match - Leonardo Paiva, The Villages SC
Paiva had been crucial all season long for The Villages SC, and never more so than in Saturday's final, where his equalizer shortly after SIMA's opener shook the latter's belief, before ultimately assisting the stoppage-time winner that sealed the title.