The Panama City Beach Pirates cemented their place in the PDL Playoffs last Saturday in a 2-0 home win over Schulz Academy. In just their second year as members of the league, the Pirates 28 points has them seated second in the Southeast Division with two games remaining until the postseason. With a record of 9-2-1, Panama City Beach has only fallen to conference rival Ocala, and is a team growing in confidence.
The Pirates’ success has undoubtedly come from the team’s defensive ability. Allowing only nine goals this season, Panama City Beach is just one of seven teams left with less than 10 goals against. Led by returning center backs, Taian Souza and Drew Russell, the Pirates’ back four has only grown more solid as the season passed on, posting huge away shutouts against Orlando City and the Mississippi Brilla. A key to their success however, was the man in between the sticks, keeper Sean Lewis. Putting in repeated consistent performances, where 1-on-1 saves became a regular, Lewis owned his penalty box and all opponents who ventured in it.
It’s not just defending that propelled the Pirates to their series of close victories, but goals from all sources. The surprise leader of the team in scoring with just three goals, captain Taian Souza tallies directed won two games. Of the 17 goals Panama City Beach have scored on the season, 10 different players have hit the back of the net, leaving opponents with no grasp of where the next goal might come from. An unspoken yet understood desire to succeed from each player on the Pirates has paid off in goals when needed, from any and all sources.
With seven of their nine wins coming by a single goal, the Pirates have made their season off close calls. A combination of “Catenaccio” defending and the “Fergie time” play of Manchester United, Panama City Beach has developed an ability to grind out victories, pushing out repeated clutch performances. In their seven single-goal victories, five game-winners have come in the final 10 minutes of play. Leaving fans on the edge of their seat, however, seems to be a formula for their amazing success. The Pirates not only have firmly taken their postseason spot, but also battled to a top 15 spot in the nation.
Head Coach Greg Devito saw the Pirates’ triumphs as a result of hard work, saying, “For the playoffs this year it took a lot of discipline, a good training mentality, a lot of organization on the field, and everybody’s collective effort in matches was the only way to get it done.”
Devito sees a common theme between his players, attributing it as their recipe for success.
“One of the key ingredients was everyone’s desire to achieve a goal, and that was a result, three points, from the beginning of the game all the way to the final whistle,” he said. “Whether it be in the 94th minute or 10 minutes from time, or whatever, everyone was going to work towards one conceivable goal, which was a win and that’s what made it special. Whether or not we’re better individually in certain areas of the field is questionable, but I think as a group we’re the best team in conference and hopefully more.”
While many may find the Pirates set of narrow victories as a form of destiny, the team warrants a closer look. Built on self-belief and dogged determination, Panama City Beach has earned their place and is a difficult team for any to handle in the upcoming playoffs. The Pirates set off on their final regular season road trip this weekend, facing off against IMG Bradenton (July 19th) and VSI Tampa (July 21st), hoping to end on a high note before heading to Austin, Texas for the regional finals July 24th and 25th. For more information on the Pirates, go to www.panamacitybeachpirates.com or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PanamaCityBeachPirates.