SAN SEBASTIÁN, Basque Country, Spain — The San Francisco Glens have entered some uncharted territory as their Under-16 team will become the first Bay Area soccer club to reach the final of the Donosti Cup this weekend.
With over 600 teams representing 14 nations, the international youth soccer tournament based in San Sebastián, Basque Country, Spain has become one of the most well-known around the world.
“This has just been an incredible experience for our players to bond with each other off the field as well as on the field against some tough competition,” said Glens executive director Mike McNeill, who knows this group well, having coached many of the players on the team before passing them to Javier Ayala-Hil, and currently, Danny Kirkland. “We are dedicated to pushing ourselves by playing the best opponents possible while holistically developing our players to become complete people off the field.”
In this case, the Glens’ Under-16A Team is no stranger to adversity, having come back from three 1-0 deficits during the Donosti Cup to make it to the final.
Last Thursday, the U-16s needed some of that magic to win their semifinal tie with local club Roteta CD.
After conceding another early goal, the Glens called on their four teenage phenoms currently signed to their first team in the USL League Two — Adrian Guzman, Xander Sagatelyan, Kevin Estrada and captain Diego Grande.
As the first half wound down, Grande headed home a set piece to give the Glens some much-needed relief heading into intermission. With the abbreviated tournament games consisting of two 25-minute halves, the urgency to score is heightened.
“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy facing a team that was able to bring their local fans over, but I think the goal calmed us down and helped us focus for the second half,” said Grande.
The final 25 minutes were chaotically entertaining. After Roteta saw a potential go-ahead goal nullified by offside, the Glens countered late with a game-winning counterattack score from Declan O’Flynn. The rising senior at Sacred Heart Cathedral started his career with the Glens in 2011, at just four years old, when the club first started a youth club with just two Under-5 youth teams.
“It feels good to see how much the club has grown the past few years,” O’Flynn said. “For me to be a part of the Glens when not much was known about them and then to see that my club is competing in Europe and has a first team in the USL League Two is so huge.”
The Glens face Los Indios CF of Madrid in the U-16 final at 12:30 p.m. local time (3:30 p.m. Pacific) on Sunday with history on the line.
“It’s a tremendous achievement and an opportunity we fully deserve,” said U-16 head coach Danny Kirkland, who was once a youth prospect himself at English club Sheffield Wednesday. “We’re very excited of the possibility of bringing home the trophy to our fans and other players in San Francisco.”
USL2 Glens snap losing streak with unlikely upset in Ventura
The San Francisco Glens’ first team returned to the win column last Thursday with a gutsy 4-3 victory over the Ventura County Fusion.
The unluckiest club in the USL League Two entering the match, the Glens had secured just one win in 12 games despite holding the lead in all but four, and came in on a six-game losing streak.
The Glens rallied around two goals from midfielder Diego Lopez, one from winger Rei Dorwart and one from forward Carlos Trujeque Leal, racing out to a 4-1 advantage in the 55th minute, only to see the Fusion close within 4-3 with 13 minutes left in regulation.
This time the Glens refused to fold. Though San Francisco was only able to suit up 15 total players, the lack of depth worked in their favor, as several players made their debuts and logged major minutes, including Josh Dabora, whose father David once starred for the Glens in their 1990 run to the National Amateur Cup final.
Glens head coach Ayala-Hil himself came off the bench in the second half as player-coach. The former Cal star and pro midfielder closed out the game and ensured that San Francisco would hold on to the lead at long last through 90 gritty minutes.
The win not only gave the Glens three valuable points on the road, but it spoiled the Fusion’s hopes for a division title. A win would have drawn them even on points with current leader FC Golden State Force.