Revos Cling to 9th Parallel Cup Win in Vanica's Swan Song

LAUDERHILL, Florida -- Andy Vanica is used to being a champion.

He has been the backbone of the Denver Bulldogs for just about the entire duration of that club’s long and storied history.  He also has been a part of several international triumphs with the USA Revolution.

On this, his 27th and final appearance, he again would be a key contributor and the recipient of more hardware.  The Revos ran out to an early halftime lead, then hunkered down and withstood a barrage from their Northern rivals and in the end held onto a 45-29 victory at Central Broward Country Regional Park Stadium.  The victory marked their ninth 49th Parallel Cup in ten contested events. 

Vanica’s long time teammate and coach in Colorado, Tom Ellis, began his international coaching career with a victory, and it would not have been so without a complete team effort from his charges.

The opening minutes of the match were physical, with pushing and shoving punctuating a few of the contests.  Like the women’s match earlier in the evening, the Canadians would strike first.  Nathan Strom’s free kick popped over the pack where Morgan Whyte was waiting, and the Quebec Saint converted for the first score of the match.  The Revos would shake off that early dent in the armor and come back, however, pushing back into their forward line and winning a free kick that was converted by captain Bryan Dragus to level the scores at six.

From that point, the Americans would start to push off, as Jason Wilhelm gained control of the ruck and Andrew “Tiger” Werner and Clyde Simpson ran well in support of their big man.  Werner would extend the Revos lead when he called for a Mike Murphy handball and banged home a goal from 45 meters out. 

Sacramento Sun Saleh Tyebjee has gained a reputation as one of the best defenders in the USAFL.  He would prove his worth multiple times during the course of the evening.  The first such time came towards the end of the first quarter when James Duggan booted the apparent tying goal, but Tyebjee sprinted back and got a fingernail on it to turn it into a rushed behind. 

The Revos would answer as Vanica came forward to provide some playmaking, and Nathan Caldwell and Christian Leyva applied pressure but could only manage two more behinds.  It was a tepid and even first twenty minutes, but the USA were 14-7 to the good at the siren.

After staying even in the opening term, the Americans would kick away a bit, netting two goals in the first three minute.  Dragus, who would rule his forward arc most of the night, would open the scoring in second, forcing a mistake from the Canadians and sneaking home his second of the game.  Dragus would get his third sausage roll two minutes later, after taking a solid mark from his knees. 

The Revos remained encamped in the forward 50 arc, and pressured the Northwind into making several mistakes.  Dragus, Levya, Bobby Sears, and Nathan Caldwell put down the clamps on any Canadian respite, and a couple more behinds would go up on the board before Mike Murphy kicked his first Revo goal, soccer style, to extend the lead.   

The last few minutes of the quarter were back and forth, with Ronan Shaughnessey helping to stoke the Northwind counter.  After trading behinds, Canada got a crucial goal to their comeback effort when Revo fullback Kiel Rasp blocked a ball that would’ve gone through for a behind; it ricocheted to Strom who scored from point blank range.  After being outplayed for the breadth of the second term, Canada was only down 38-17, and had the Americans in their sights.

What followed over the final forty minutes of the 2015 49th Parallel Cup men’s match was a study in determination from both teams, and an exhibition of amazing defensive skills by the Revolution back half.  The USA would get just two more scoring shots in the second half, but the backs -- Tyebjee, Vanica, Rasp, and Luke Nemeth in particular – would ensure that they would be the only ones they would need.

Brent Fischer was more omnipresent in the second half than he was in the first, earning several free kicks and denying Northwind chances.  The intensity of the match started to pick up again, with players on both sides tackling with more fierceness. 

Canada would keep the play hemmed in, for the most part, in their forward half.  They would get no less than a dozen chances on the sticks, but they were either wide of goal or spoiled, one way or another, by the back line.  Robert Tersigni was snakebit the most, it seemed, as he missed two set shots from in front.  When the Revos got forward, a rare occurance at in the third term, the Northwind defense held firm.  Trying to clear the ball out was another story, however, as the forward line forced clearance mistakes which led to Fischer being open for counterattack chances and Nemeth making some crunching hits in the center of the ground.  Bobby Sears kept up his tenacity and earned the only point for his side with less than a minute to go. 

Three-quarter time came with the USA holding a 39-21 advantage.  By hook or by crook, their defense had allowed the Northwind just two major scores from eleven scoring shots up to that point.  With Canada punching holes in the dam, one would think that it would be just a matter of time before it would break into a lava of maple-syrup scented points.

As fit as the Americans have proven to be over the past several years of international play, Canada seemed to be up for the task of playing four quarters of footy in the soup of nighttime in Florida.  As the final term began, the physicality continued, punctuated by a big hit by Christian Merritt on the Northwind’s James Duggan.  Nathan Cragg would threaten the lead with a straight kick, but another American fingertip, this one in desperation by fullback Rasp, kept Canada from getting full points.  Tersigni would miss yet another free kick, but the heat was still on.

Facing continuous momentum forward, however, Saleh Tyebjee was cool as a cucumber and easily found his way to the ball to take marks and defuse scoring chances time and time again.  Nemeth, who would take home MVP honors, was also quick to quash any hopes of Canada drawing close.  For the better part of fifteen minutes in the last quarter, the score was frozen with the Revolution up sixteen points. 

The clearances would continue, but the Northwind midfield would seal up the corridors and pick off balls looking to counter attack.  Just like in the third quarter, however, any bullets for goal would fall harmlessly wide, with time ebbing away.  Ryan McGettigan, Andrew Rose, and Tim Lindfelt would make the Northwind pay for any chances with constant pressure.  Kyle Johnson took timely marks in the middle, and Vanica, putting in one more legendary performance for the Revos, was also there to clean up.

At this point, it was apparent that the Americans would be happy to park the bus, play defense, and see out a win.  They would get few balls forward and when they did, the final piece wasn’t there.   Inside the final five minutes, the desperation on both teams grew.  Nemeth and Werner threw big tackles and earned possessions to help take valuable time off the clock. 

But the Northwind were not done, and their pressure finally paid off.  A crumb fell to Bogdan Rotaru who kicked a goal with three minutes left in the game.  Ten points now separated the sides.  In spite of all the directional issues they were having, surely two goals was a much easier ask now.

The Revolution boys were visibly exhausted.  But they didn’t train this hard to go down in this way.  Not tonight.  All they needed to do was run out the clock.  They did, and they did so in style.

With a minute left, Merritt earned a free kick on the wing in front of the CBRP Pavilion.  He took his time, milking seconds, then let go a low and strong kick for his captain.  Bryan Dragus took a definitive mark, as significant as that of Leo Barry or Bob Murray in AFL Grand Finals of yore.  The game was sealed then, but the formality of the final twenty seconds would see the Revos’ first goal in two-and-a-half quarters.  Dragus put the ball into a pack that spilled to Fischer, who wildly kicked for the pocket.  Murphy chased it down, wheeled around to his right foot, and snapped home the cherry on top of the sundae with the siren right behind it.  It was a 16-point win, and a triumphant struggle at that.

Cody Royle and his Northwind charges can take solace in the fact that, for most of the game, they outplayed a team that has consistently had their number over the course of their long history against each other.  But in the end, their wayward kicking cost them, and 3.11 will not beat very many teams.  Still, they played hard and didn’t let themselves down.

For Tom Ellis, however, it was exactly the start he wanted to his tenure as Revo coach.  Not only was it a win over their arch rivals, but it was a gutsy one at that.  Two years is still a very long time to see what develops, but this was a handsome win by a team with a renewed vision.

The man of the moment, however, was Vanica.  After joining Werner to receive the trophy, the father of two was chaired off the field by his teammates, tears streaming down in humble appreciation all the while.  He wasn’t just an extra in the play on this warm August night, he was a main performer.  The man who has given so much to the Revos and the USAFL, and who will continue to do so, helped give them a ninth 49th Parallel Cup.

“Hats off to Canada who brought a very competitive team and never let up, despite going down early,” he said afterwards.  “The pressure we faced in the second half was immense, but our guys dug in deep. It's an honor and a privilege to wear this jumper and I am very proud of all of my teammates for the efforts and heart they displayed.  We certainly were tested and left everything on the field.”

USA Revolution 2.2.14 5.8.38 5.9.39 6.9.45
Canada Northwind 1.1.7 2.5.17 2.9.21 3.11.29

USA: Dragus 3, Murphy 2, Werner
CANADA: Strom 2, Rotaru 1

USA: Nemeth, Tyebjee, Fischer, Dragus
CANADA: Strom, Duggan, Shaughnessy

Posted in 
Watch AFL