It’s not too often that a professional soccer club is built from a youth soccer academy.
It’s usually the other way around – youth academies stem from professional parent organizations.
But that’s not the case with the latest soccer sensation in the Coastal Empire area – Statesboro-based Tormenta FC, a Professional Development League team that was created last year and is now in its second season.
But there likely wouldn’t be a Tormenta FC, a place for college and post-college players to hone their skills on a professional stage, without the Storm Soccer Academy, which originally started as the Savannah Soccer Academy.
Storm Soccer Academy changed its name to Tormenta when it partnered with Darin Van Tassell, president of the new PDL franchise.
“The PDL team has been one of our goals since we started youth club,” said Jeremy Aven, the youth academy’s technical director. “Darin and I partnering together was part of the natural progression. He does 100 percent of the work on the PDL side, and I run 100 percent of the youth side.”
And while Tormenta FC continues to enjoy early success as a new franchise, the teams Aven and his staff coach are producing some of the top soccer players in Georgia and the Lowcountry outside of the Atlanta area. One team, the ’99 Boys Black, did what, according to Aven, no other Savannah-based team has done – winning the U.S. Youth Soccer Georgia State Cup on June 4 and advancing to the Southern Regional Championships, where it lost in the quarterfinals.
“I don’t know if anyone outside of the metro Atlanta area has won state cup,” Aven said.
The coach added that the 17- and 18-year-olds who won the state title had been with Aven since the inception of the Savannah Soccer Academy.
“They’ve been competing to win state cup since they were U-13,” he said. “They lost in the finals twice, and they’ve been to the final four every year except one year.”
The Georgia State Cup is essentially an Atlanta tournament with 16 teams competing and divided into four groups. The first round is a round-robin format, and the winner of each group advances to the semifinals.
While most of the Atlanta teams have an almost insurmountable amount of talent to pull from, Tormenta has to compensate with hard work. The ’99 squad has made it to the semifinals or better for all except one year.
“They’re pulling from a huge population base, way bigger than what we’re playing for,” Aven said about his opponents from Atlanta. “That’s why we pull from a large radius. We’re looking for the best kids who are willing to train harder. We mostly just work harder than everyone else.
“We have to take the kids that we have and really work hard to make them unbelievable soccer players, so that’s why we train as much as we do.”
Tormenta recruits talent from Savannah and its surrounding areas, including Statesboro, Richmond Hill, Brunswick, Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and Beaufort, South Carolina.
Alexis Jimenez, who has played with Tormenta since 2014, said he and five of his teammates drive from Bluffton to Savannah five days a week for two-hour practice sessions.
But Jimenez, who is committed to play soccer at Mercer, embraces the grind.
“It’s just keeping me away from the negative stuff in my life,” Jimenez said. “It’s hard, but you adjust. It’s a really good environment. We’re always excited going up for training. The drills are very intense and hard. We don’t mind traveling 40 minutes to be there. It’s great.”
“Everybody’s fighting for a starting spot,” added teammate Brett Goodman. “If you’re just walking through practice, then you’re just not going to play.”
Goodman, who will be a senior at Savannah Country Day this fall, has been with Tormenta/Storm Soccer Academy since the beginning and has been a part of every team that has come up short of the Georgia Cup. There was no indication this year would be any different. Their championship game opponent, the Alpharetta Ambush, had already beaten Tormenta three times in the regular season, including a 4-0 shutout the last time the two teams met.
“We just came out with nothing to lose and put it all on the line,” Goodman said. “It was a back-and-forth game pretty much the whole game, but with 12 minutes left, we went up 1-0 and then got another goal, then just held on after they scored.”
A corner kick set up Tormenta with several good looks, and Trevor Butchington finally broke through with a rebound off the crossbar. Jesus Morales knocked in the clincher to give Tormenta room for error in the 2-1 victory.
“It was pretty special for us,” Goodman said. “Everything we had been striving for paid off for us. It made us feel like we were one of the best teams to come from Savannah.
“It wasn’t about individuals. Everybody was only concerned about what was best for the team, and it created better chemistry than we’ve had in the past.”
Aven said he will have most of the players from the ’99 team back for one more year, but the state title came not a moment too soon.
“A lot of these kids I’ve watched since they were tiny kids,” Aven said. “It was very fitting and appropriate for this team to be the first to win the state cup.”