MILWAUKEE – It's going to take a lot to top the day David Scherer had Saturday.
The Milwaukee Sport Club coach watched his team knock off perennial power Croatian Eagles 2-1 at Milwaukee School of Engineering's Viets Field to claim their second straight Wisconsin Soccer Leagues Major Division title.
They're the first team to win back-to-back state Major titles since the Croatians did so in 2002 and '03.
"It's unbelievable, because Croatians are the best team in the country," he said. "They're the best team in the country – just a class organization, they've got a great coach, great players, great fans, the club, it's just everything.
"So for us to be victorious today, it's just unbelievable. When I was walking off there, I was thinking, 'Is it really over? Did we win?' I don't want to use the word 'surreal' that everybody uses, but it was like, 'Yeah, we really did.' ... It was a pretty cool."
Not only did the Sport Club lineup include Scherer's sons, Michael and David, and two of his nephews, Kyle and B.J. Gottschlich, the victory came on his father's 83rd birthday.
"Usually, we go out to dinner for his birthday. But he was like, 'No,' " the coach said. Instead, Josef Scherer – a founding member of Sport Club in 1953 and a member of the adult state soccer Halls of Fame – was in the stands, received several rousing renditions of "Happy Birthday" and left with a winner's medal around his neck.
B.J. Gottschlich (Germantown/UW-Platteville), playing just his third game of the season, snapped a tie and scored what proved to be the game-winner on a counter attack in the 53rd minute and second-seeded Sport Club (13-4-0) fended off nearly constant pressure from the top-seeded Croatians (14-2-1) over the final half hour.
It was the second straight year Sport Club beat the Eagles in the postseason, having outscored them 6-4 in a Majors semifinal last July. The Croatians won the three previous meetings between the sides this season, but fell behind after 22 minutes this night.
Ryan Bailey (Wauwatosa West) didn't start the match, but played a key role in each of the two goals scored in the first half – one by each side.
First, he found some space on the right flank and played the ball to Steve Sperl (Wauwatosa West/UW-Milwaukee) at the top of the box. Sperl's sweeping, first-time shot got past Croatians goalkeeper Bryce Boyd (Milwaukee Marquette/UW-Milwaukee) for the opener.
The Eagles had a would-be goal ruled out for offside in the 10th minute, but started slowly in general, which was perhaps understandable.
The team will play in the U.S. Adult Soccer Association National Amateur Cup semifinals Friday in Sandy, Utah, and manager Alex Toth opted to rest regulars Jason Willan (Menomonee Falls) and Aaron Cranfill (New Berlin West/UW-Milwaukee) to allow them to recover from minor injuries. Luan Oliveira, Adam Lysak (Milton/Marquette) and Joe Anderson (Racine Prairie School/UW) also weren't available because of personal obligations.
"It was a little bit different lineup. That said, we still should have won the game," Toth said. "My hat's off to them. Dave Scherer is a great coach, they're a great club, and they did what they had to do to beat us.
"It's probably my fault as much as anybody else. This was just another game for us. I know it's a title game, but next weekend, my focus has been on that. I took my eye off this a little bit, so I'm to blame for this, too."
Still, the Croatians slowly started to seize control late in the first half.
A left-footed strike by Philip Suprise (Milwaukee Pius) in the 40th forced a diving save from Sport Club keeper Matt Eisold (Burlington/Wisconsin Lutheran) at the far post. The ensuing corner kick sailed over everyone in the box, but Scott Raymonds (Brookfield East/UW-Green Bay) tracked it down on the back side and drove a low cross into the 6-yard box from the right side. Bailey – usually a center back but playing in the midfield – accidentally turned it in past Eisold for an own goal and a 1-1 tie.
That pressure continued past the halftime break, including a golden opportunity in the 50th when Andy Huftalin (Marquette) was played in alone on the left and got Eisold to go to ground, but slotted his shot wide left of the vacant goal.
But as they did most of the night, Sport Club soaked up the pressure, with Cardinal Stritch center back Oliver Bell leading the defensive effort. And they made their possession pay, getting the ball to Gottschlich on the right side to start a counter.
He carried the ball all the way to the top of the box, then stopped and fired a shot that beat Boyd to the far side, clipping off the inside of the post and in for a 2-1 lead.
"They gave me a lot of space, they kind of just let me take it up. It wasn't a fast break by any means," said Gottschlich, whose time with Sport Club this season has been extremely limited – he didn't attend even a single practice – because he lived in Maine for six months and recently relocated to Chicago for his job as a project manager for an electrical company.
"But they just gave me the space and I saw an opportunity to take a rip and I went for it and just kind of watched it go right in. I knew it had a chance, I was hoping it wasn't going to bend wide. And it hit the post and went in."
With the exception of one great shot by Sperl that led to a nice save by Boyd, it was pretty much one-way traffic the rest of the night. And the most controversial play of the match occurred just less than 10 minutes later in the 62nd.
Suprise, who was a constant threat, burst through the right side of the box and appeared to be pulled down by UW-Platteville left back Kyle Gottschlich (Germantown). The referee signalled to play on, ignoring the Eagles' penalty pleas.
Asked if he thought the play involving his nephew was a penalty, David Scherer said: "You know what? It could've been. But then you could've called one over here (for Sport Club), too. It's hard – there are so many little things that happen."
Scherer's opposite number, however, had an entirely different opinion.
"Philip was in the box and the guy grabbed his shoulder," Toth said. "Not only a stone-cold penalty, but a red card because there was nobody else there."
The Croatians sent more and more players forward, eventually going to four strikers up top, and had the lion's share of the possession, but couldn't just couldn't find an equalizer against Eisold and the Sport Club backline.
"We're all really familiar with each other – they know us, we know them," said Eisold, who made nine saves. "You could tell, obviously at certain points during the match there was a little bit of banter and things – you don't want to get beat by someone you know. Every time we play them, it's always been a good battle."
From the touchline
B.J. Gottschlich missed Sport Club's 1-0 victory over the Milwaukee Kickers after extra time in last season's final because he was in Sweden on trial with several professional clubs. ... Toth said that he expects to have his full roster available for the National Amateur Cup. "I think we'll be really solid and hopefully we can pull it off," said Toth, whose team leaves Thursday for Utah and will face Colorado's Guadalajara SC in the semifinals at 1 p.m. Friday. The winner will play Texas' Legends FC or the New York Greek Americans in the final at 6 p.m. Saturday.
WSL Major Division final July 19, 2014 at Viets Field, Milwaukee
Milwaukee Sport Club – Steve Sperl (Ryan Bailey) 22
Croatian Eagles – Own goal (Ryan Bailey) 41
Milwaukee Sport Club – B.J. Gottschlich 53
CROATIAN EAGLES: Bryce Boyd; Chris Kurth, Aaron Schroeder, Mike Narciso, Donnie Crego; Luke Goodnetter, Tony Patterson; Andy Huftalin, Aaron Lauber, Scott Raymonds; Philip Suprise. Substitutes (open) – Kevin Ferron, Ilya Ksenidi, Thomas Lynn, Greg Jones.
MILWAUKEE SPORT CLUB: Matt Eisold; Kyle Gottschlich, Paul Sikinger, Oliver Bell, Andrew Krenzien; Nick Unger, Michael Scherer; Jake Jankowski, Steve Sperl, David Scherer; Sam Krenzien. Substitutes (open) – B.J. Gottschlich, Ryan Bailey.
Shots: CE 21, MSC 14. Saves: CE 3, MSC 9. Fouls: CE 9, MSC 10. Corner kicks: CE 9, MSC 3. Offsides: CE 4, MSC 1. Discipline: CE – Raymonds 31 (yellow, foul), Lauber 80 (yellow, foul).
Milwaukee Sport Club: 2013-14 WSL Major Division champions
Emotions were high in the night's first final, even if drama wasn't.
Brandon Chmiel (Cedarburg/UW-Platteville) gave North Shore United the lead in the 3rd minute, sparking a four-goal first half that led to a 4-1 victory over the Azteca United Reserves in the First Division final.
Mohammed Sethi (Mequon Homestead) doubled the lead in 14th, Dustin Keegan (Grafton) made it 3-0 in the 35th and Joe Hammes (Cedarburg) converted a penalty in the 40th as second-seeded North Shore United (18-3-1) cruised to the title in their first season in the league.
But the thoughts of the winning NSU players centered around their late teammate, Brett Wiesner. The former Brookfield East High School star and Milwaukee Wave player passed away July 5 after a swimming incident on Oconomowoc Lake.
"I've won plenty with the Wave and plenty as a pro, and this is probably the most special championship that I've ever been part of," NSU coach David Moxom said. "Just because of what Brett meant to the soccer community and North Shore United in general. To be able to win this for him and be able to leave it all on the field – as he would have – it's extra special."
After Moxom received the trophy following the comprehensive win, he put a black armband with the letters "BW" on it around the cup – the whole team wore the armbands for the match. Moxom indicated that the team's time with that trophy would be brief.
"We're going to celebrate with that cup tonight," he said, "and then make sure that Linda and Fran Wiesner (Brett's parents), that's going to be something we're going to want them to have in memory of Brett and what he meant to our club."
Fifth-seeded Azteca United Reserves came in as the hottest team in the league, having gone unbeaten in 12 matches (11-0-1) since a 4-0 loss to North Shore on April 13.
"We played them the first game of the spring, and they were a different side today," said Moxom, whose team will play in the Major Division next season. "We knew that they were going to be dangerous and we had to keep possession and we got a couple goals early."
Jose Varela scored in the 73rd as Azteca United Reserves (14-5-3) avoided the shutout, and both sides played down a man for the final 13 minutes after Gilberto Perez and NSU's Niklas Dagervik were both sent off in the 77th.
North Shore United: 2013-14 WSL First Division champions