Defending champs hope to run it back with key group of returnees | Image Credit: South Georgia Tormenta FC
STATESBORO, Ga. - South Georgia Tormenta FC are fresh off the greatest turnaround in league history in which Head Coach Ian Cameron led the young club from an 11th-place finish in 2021 to a third-place finish in 2022, capping things off with a 2022 USL League One Final victory. Now, the League One champions will be tasked with replicating their success with a squad of a slightly different complexion.
Tormenta FC's 2022 campaign was one of the most up-and-down seasons in the league as South Georgia experienced movement of at least five positions up and down the table on five different occasions. The Ibises steadied the ship as the season neared its conclusion, losing just once in their final nine matches. After its strong finish to the regular season, South Georgia locked up its first-ever postseason appearance and entered the 2022 USL League One Playoffs as the third-overall seed. Tormenta FC reeled off a trio of one-goal victories in three postseason matches which proved enough for the Statesboro side to hoist its first-ever trophy in a 2-1 victory over Chattanooga.
The majority of Tormenta FC’s 2022 roster will remain in Statesboro for their title-defending campaign, highlighted by the return of Kazaiah Sterling, Jake Dengler, Kingsford Adjei and Tobias Otieno. However, some of Tormenta FC’s top talents were poached by higher-division sides; League One Comeback Player of the Year Adrian Billhardt joins Detroit City FC, All-League midfielder Gabriel Cabral flocks to Miami FC and towering defender Joshua Phelps opts to return to his native Australia with second-division side Melbourne Knights FC. While the aforementioned absences will certainly be felt, the additions of Preston Kilwien from the Charleston Battery, Matheus Cassini from Forward Madison FC John Murphy from New York Red Bulls II will be impactful.
Matheus Cassini | Image Credit: Forward Madison FC
The former Forward Madison FC man led the ‘Mingos with a combined 10 goals and assists and led the league with 92 fouls won in 2022. The crafty 27-year-old midfielder was vital to Madison's intermittent success a season ago as he helped the ‘Mingos claim 67% of all possible points in matches in which he scored or assisted compared to just 28% in matches in which Cassini didn’t score or assist. Cassini’s career began in 2008 when he joined his hometown club Corinthians in Brazil’s top-flight Brasileirão and played within the club's youth ranks until 2015 when he was picked up by Italian Serie A side Palermo FC. During his time with Palermo, Cassini was loaned to Croatian and Italian squads, making fifteen appearances with Italian side ASD Siracusa. Between 2017 and 2022, Cassini spent time with Brazilian clubs Ponte Preta, Santos FC, Oeste FC and Sampaio Corrêa along with stints in France with Amiens SC Bulgaria with Botev Vratsa.
Kazaiah Sterling | Image Credit: South Georgia Tormenta FC
Tormenta FC’s All-League forward enjoyed a career renaissance in Statesboro with a club-record 13 goals in just 23 regular season appearances and led the league with a combined 22 goals and assists across regular season and postseason play. The former Tottenham Hotspur FC forward provided an attacking spark to help South Georgia to a 2022 USL League One Final victory via his Final MVP performance. Sterling’s 17 combined League One regular season and playoff scores not only are ninth all-time but also position him behind only Ricardo Pepi with a 0.81 goal per 90 minutes mark (min. three goals). The North London native made his professional debut in the UEFA Champions League at 19 years and 27 days old, making him the youngest Spurs player to appear in the European tournament. The former England youth international regularly appeared for the Tottenham U-23 side and has made over 100 appearances in European competitions including the UEFA Champions League, the Emirates FA Cup and the Premier League 2, among others. Sterling also spent time on loan with EFL League One sides Sunderland AFC and Doncaster Rovers FC and EFL League Two side Southend United.