HAMPTON ROADS — Lionsbridge FC may have seen a title slip away in the final seconds of last week’s USL League Two National Championship match against Ballard FC, but both fans and management alike are proud.
Lionsbridge suffered a couple of key setbacks in the first half of last week’s excitement-filled match, finding itself down a man and trailing 1-0 at the half. Battling back and scoring in the second half to even things up, a stunning goal in stoppage time gave Ballard the 2-1 win.
Head coach Chris Whalley spoke about the atmosphere in Seattle surrounding the championship match.
“The crowd was fantastic, it was close to 4,000 people there. But we had about 100 Lionsbridge fans who were singing their hearts out and supporting us. It is a great atmosphere produced by both teams and it was a great game. We fought extremely hard and played 60-plus minutes with ten men. The fact that we worked so hard and played down a man, I’m very very proud of our group for the effort we put in,” Whalley said.
While it was not the outcome that Lionsbrige wanted, the team ends the 2023 soccer campaign as national finalists, something the team is very proud of.
“If you just define success based on achieving our ultimate goal, that doesn’t mean that our season wasn’t a success. We did a fantastic job, we improved a lot, and it came to be as we got to the stage that we got to. I tried to talk to the guys a lot about that whatever happened during the game, of course we wanted to win, but when all is said and done, we need to be extremely proud of ourselves and the journey that we’ve been on to get to this stage,” Whalley said.
In 2023, Lionsbridge went through some bouts of adversity during the regular season. After some tough losses, the team was unsure that a playoff run was even possible. Hosting the playoffs at Towne Bank Stadium, Lionsbridge faithful showed their support and propelled them to the championship game.
Many Lionsbridge fans traveled to Seattle for the game, but even those who stayed behind in Hampton Roads had fun. Coastal Fermentory, a local brewery in Hampton Roads, hosted a well-attended watch party.
Many fans took to the Lionsbridge Facebook page after the game to thank the team for a great season:
“Everyone in this organization should be so proud from the players to the staff! This is a one-of-a-kind team and such a huge asset to our community. To see the way these kids look up to each of you is beyond special. Your gift to these children will span for generations. I know the sting and heartache of second place and especially such a last-minute score like that is REALLY hard now. But you are so much more than a number and a final score. You are true heroes to our town. Hold your head high — you’ve had an absolutely incredible year and you are still so loved here in Virginia,” Michelle Sansbury Jenks, a fan, said.
“So very proud of a great family club, the brilliant fans, the amazing squad, the dedicated coaches, superb support staff and of course our Sam. It has been an incredible season and we feel grateful to have experienced it with you all. We will always remember. This was soccer and community at its very best. The bar is set,” Martin Hall, a fan and father of Lionsbridge Defender Samuel Hall, said.
Lionsbridge finishes the 2023 season as USL League Two National Finalists, USL League Two Eastern Conference Champions, USL League Two Chesapeake Division Champions, and Coastal Virginia Challenge Cup Champions with an overall record of 13-3-4.
Looking ahead to 2024, Coach Whalley is expecting another excellent season at the helm.
“I plan to be back and we’re already thinking about next year. We’ve got a bunch of guys from this year who want to come back and we’d love to have them back. Our job now is to evaluate them and figure out what pieces we need to add to the puzzle to make sure we’re in the conversation next year,” Whalley said.
Whalley and the entire Lionsbridge organization had nothing but praise for the Lionsbridge fanbase.
“The fans are just amazing. To support us the way they have done all season, it’s been a crazy summer with air quality, rain, thunder, cold, it seems like every game there has been something going on. The support they give us day in and day out, rain and shine, we truly, truly appreciate them. There’s been days and times where we’ve been behind the eight ball a little bit and working with a difficult set of cards, but having the fans behind you, that is really special and something that really helps us through some tough times but makes the extra special moments that much more special,” Whalley said.
Season tickets for 2024 are on sale now. Lionsbridge FC’s season runs May through July. For more information, visit lionsbridgefc.com.