By Jeff Keeling
Pitted against some top young British talent, the Tri-Cities Otters FC eleven gamely held its own for just more than 40 minutes during an “international friendly” at Science Hill High School’s Kermit Tipton stadium Saturday.
With Science Hill graduate Andrew Kenneson making several saves, including one scintillating effort, the Otters – who play in the semi-pro Premier Development League – matched the under-23 developmental team for British Premier League Middlesbrough FC. While the team in yellow had the better of possession and outshot the blue-clad home squad during the first-half run of play, the Otters got off a couple shots of their own and appeared to have a good chance of heading to the locker room in a scoreless tie.
Science Hill graduate Lucas Altman, who will play at Wofford College this fall, fired wide of the right post from just outside the penalty box midway through the half.
At the 41-minute mark, though, the fast-moving Brits set up an opportunity on the left side of the box and Harrison Chapman sent a ball home. It turned out to be all Middlesbrough would need, as the visitors scored twice in the second half en route to a 3-0 win that wasn’t quite as close as the score indicated. It gave the team a perfect 3-0 tour of the Southeast that included wins over clubs from Chattanooga and Charlotte.
Otters head coach David Strickland, whose team was 1-10-3 in its inaugural PDL season, said despite the scoreboard, the game was a great success.
“Everybody absolutely enjoyed it,” Strickland said. “My agreement was, I would play everybody in that game. We were pretty competitive, to an extent, for awhile and then after we started making some changes, chemistry fell apart and some breakdowns started happening.
“But as far as the experience goes, these guys got to measure themselves against players that are very close to making it to a really high level. The experience was fantastic.”
Kenneson and the Otters’ other primary keeper, Kari Sveinsson, helped keep the score lower than it could have been.
“Andrew Kenneson made a massive save there in the beginning,” Strickland said. “We played all four goalkeepers. Sveinsson had some really good saves. One slipped by him, but he still performed very well.”
Before the 2017 PDL season, Strickland will have the chance to recruit during the fall men’s college season – an opportunity he missed last year as the Otters didn’t secure their franchise until late winter.
“They’ve offered me the chance to lead the team again next year, and we’re already looking forward to getting improved results on the field.