By Scott Adamson
Take a look at the National Premier Soccer League standings, and you’ll see that Greenville FC is next to last in the Southeast Conference Division of the eight-team South Region Conference.
Look a little closer, and you’ll realize a playoff berth remains a very real possibility.
Now one match into the second half of its 14-game league slate, Greenville sits at 2-3-3 and well within reach of one of the six available postseason berths. Lee Squires’ charges are just six points behind first place Chattanooga FC (4-1-3).*
* The New Orleans Jesters (5-3-1), who lost to the Upstate-based squad earlier in the campaign, have 16 points but have played nine games.
With a road match tonight in Knoxville at Emerald Force (3-8-0) and on Saturday at Asheville City SC (4-3-3), Greenville has a chance to make a dramatic surge.
“I’m not sure it’s a surprise, but I am most pleased with how the team has come together as a group and are ready and willing to go to battle each game, with and for each other,” Squires said. “We have developed a resilience, highlighted by the fact we have come from behind to take a draw or win the game in five of our last six games. The biggest hurdle is arguably the adjustment to the league.
“A lot of the teams have older, more experienced, more physical players than us, so we’ve had to adapt, play to our strengths, and find a way.”
The most recent rally came last Saturday at Silverback Stadium.
Despite trailing 1-0 and having to wait out a 90-minute lightning delay at the half, GVLFC scored two unanswered goals to defeat Atlanta, 2-1. The result snapped the ‘Backs’ five-game unbeaten streak.
Both of the club’s victories this season have come on the road.
“I think confidence is high at the moment,” Squires said. “We are (unbeaten over the last four matches) and got a great result away at the Silverbacks last weekend. It’s important now to follow that up and try to beat Emerald and Asheville this week.
“If we can do that and maintain the upward trend, then we’ll be in a good position to make the playoffs after a poor start.”
There are plenty of players who have contributed to Greenville’s positive momentum.
“We have several guys who have grown into leadership roles,” Squires said. “(Defender) Toby Sims has become the vocal leader of the group with his personality and passion, and (midfielder/defender) Laurence Wyke (who scored the game-winner against Atlanta) has come in and provided an energy and spark in midfield. Overall though, the group has grown and really taken on our messages to lead by example in their own ways.”
Team defense has been solid throughout the season, with goalkeeper Paul Tyson establishing himself as one of the better netminders in the division, and the backline offering rock-solid support.
“I think we’ve defended very well collectively in a lot of games and for long periods, yet are still waiting for that first clean sheet,” Squires said. “Paul is getting better every game, and had made big saves – including a PK save – against the Silverbacks at home.
“And the switch to a back 3 (a formation featuring three defenders) seems to give us more stability.”
Tonight’s match, as well as Saturday’s, are set for 7 p.m.
GVLFC returns home on Wednesday, June 27, to face New Orleans at 7 p.m. at Stone Stadium.
And while making a playoff push is Job One, like any soccer-minded person on the planet, Squires is also following the World Cup.
The native of Sheffield, England, has enjoyed what has been a remarkable group stage of the quadrennial event.
“The World Cup so far has been fascinating,” he said. “Some of the big nations have struggled and there have been a few surprises. I think Spain and Portugal will be tough to beat, and Croatia could well surprise people.
“Of course, I hope England go all the way.”