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By Joe Naiman
Village News Correspondent 

Toth's beach soccer in Hungary includes league, Balaton Cup championships


Last updated 9/8/2018 at 2:05pm

Chris Toth spent three weeks in Hungary during August, and the 2007 Fallbrook High School graduate contributed to his beach soccer team winning the Hungarian league championship and to the United States beach soccer national team winning the Balaton Cup tournament.

Toth joined Gyongyos Energia for Hungarian beach league play. Toth's father was born in Hungary, but he does not have family in Gyongyos.

Teams in the Hungarian beach soccer league have a ten-man roster consisting of eight field players and two goalkeepers. Toth became the primary goalkeeper for Gyongyos Energia. "When the playoffs started it was pretty much me the whole time," he said.

Toth is now 29. Most of the Gyongyos Energia players are 19, 20, or 21 and have less experience, so the fact that Toth displaced the team's goalie for most of the season was not a disruption. "The team there is very young," Toth said. "They're like learning the game."

The Hungarian beach soccer league allows three non-citizens on each team. Because Toth has dual citizenship (Toth, whose father and paternal grandfather were born in Budapest, was born in San Diego and his mother was born in Long Island) he does not count toward that limit. Toth's former San Diego Sockers teammate Nick Perera, who was born in Spain and whose mother was born in the United States, also has dual citizenship but counted as one of the foreigners. Perera is the captain of the United States national beach soccer team, and Toth brought Perera to Hungary for the previous weeks' competition. "It just made sense for the both of us to go and take this opportunity," Toth said.

Toth and Perera joined Gyongyos Energia for the final week of the regular season. The league plays a six-week schedule. "They had played the majority of their games already," Toth said.

League players must play in at least two regular-season games to be eligible for the playoffs. "I couldn't just go for the championship and play," Toth said.

The regular season involves three games each weekend. Toth and Perera joined Gyongyos for the final weekend of the regular season Aug. 3-5. Gyongyos, which was undefeated for the season entering the weekend, won all three games.

Four teams participate in the league playoffs. An Aug. 11 semifinal victory over Bodon Peter placed Gyongyos into the championship match against Jaszfenyszaru.

The championship game was played Aug. 12 in Siofok. "The final was pretty interesting," Toth said.

Jaszfenyszaru held a 3-2 lead in the final seconds of the game. Toth made a save with four seconds left and was fouled in his box. "The guy just pulled my shirt," Toth said.

The foul was strategic. Had Toth not been fouled he would have thrown the ball to the attacking side of the field for a teammate to attempt the tying goal. The foul gave Toth a free kick from the spot of the infraction. "It was completely on the other side of the field," Toth said.

Beach soccer fields are 40 yards by 30 yards. "It was probably about 35," said of the ball's distance from the goal.

Toth kicked the ball toward the opposing net and scored. "I could kick that ball 100 times and maybe I'd score it once," he said. "It's not easy to do, especially in the finals being down 3-2."

Ironically both of Toth's goals scored as a San Diego Sockers player were also in the postseason, and the first one was also during the final seconds of a period. During the first round of the 2016 Major Arena Soccer League playoffs Tacoma kicked the ball out of bounds with nine seconds left in the second quarter, giving the Sockers a free kick and the Stars not enough time to score if they recovered the ball. Toth positioned himself on the attacking side of the field and took a pass at the box, which he placed into the net. "That was kind of the same situation, just at halftime," he said.

That game was in Tacoma. The Sockers and Stars also faced each other in the first round of the 2018 MASL playoffs, and in the game at San Diego the ball was played to Toth with nearly a third of the second period elapsed. The Stars defenders were focused on the players who could receive a pass from Toth, so Toth advanced the ball to the middle of the field and then took a shot. The ball went into the net for Toth's second Sockers playoff goal.

Tacoma's goalkeeper in both of those games, Danny Waltman, was the U.S. national team's other goalkeeper in the Balaton Cup tournament. Perera was with the Sockers in 2016 and was with the Stars during the 2018 playoffs.

Neither of those goals resulted in a lead change; the 2016 goal gave the Sockers a 5-2 lead (although Tacoma later tied the game and the Sockers obtained their 8-7 victory in the second overtime period) and the 2018 goal gave San Diego a 4-1 advantage in the game which ended as a 9-3 Sockers win. Toth's goal in the Hungarian beach soccer league championship sent the game into overtime. "It's 3-3 and everybody's going nuts," he said.

The goal was the also first Toth scored from a set play. He had scored some beach soccer goals from further up the field. "It's the furthest I've ever scored," he said.

An overtime goal gave Gyongyos a 4-3 victory and the league championship. "It was pretty dramatic," Toth said.

Toth had also joined Gyongyos Energia for the end of the 2017 regular season along with last year's playoffs. Gyongyos was on the bubble between fourth and fifth place when Toth took over as the goalkeeper but finished third to qualify for the playoffs. Gyongyos also won both 2017 playoff games to finish as the league champions.

Siofok is on the south shore of Lake Balaton, and that city hosted the Aug. 17-19 Balaton Cup tournament which involved the national teams of the United States, Japan, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The Americans opened the tournament Aug. 17 with a 5-3 victory over Japan.

Japan is ranked ninth in the world. Even after winning the Balaton Cup the United States was ranked 25th. "We knew it would be a tough game," Toth said.

The games consisted of three 12-minute periods. Toth was in the nets for the entire game against Japan.

"It's been coming for a long time for us to actually beat somebody as high as them because we've been so close," Toth said. "It was a big relief and it kind of set the tone going forward."

The United States played Hungary in their Aug. 18 match. "That was a big game, especially for me personally because of the history I've had," Toth said. "It was pretty special to play against them and also to win there as well."

Toth's father and grandfather were goalies on the Hungarian national team for outdoor soccer. Toth's father, Zoltan, watched his son in the tournament as well as in the league games. "He was there pretty much the same time I was there," Toth said.

The Hungarian national team included some of Toth's Gyongyos Energia teammates. "That was pretty cool as well," Toth said of being in the same Balaton Cup game as his league teammates.

The United States defeated Hungary by a 5-3 score. Toth played the first two periods, Waltman took over as the United States goalkeeper for the first six minutes of the third period, and Toth returned to the nets for the final six minutes of the game.

A win in the Aug. 19 game against the Czech Republic, which had tied Hungary and lost to Japan, would thus clinch the championship for the United States. "We just wanted to make sure that we went in there and won that game," Toth said.

Toth did not allow a goal in the two periods he played. The United States had a 6-0 lead after the end of the second period. The Czech Republic scored against Waltman in the third period, and the final score was 8-1.

"It was an unbelievable moment," Toth said of winning the championship.

The United States had not won an international beach soccer tournament championship since 2013, when the national team won the CONCACAF (the soccer region covering North America, Central America and the Caribbean) qualifying tournament for the beach soccer World Cup. "It's been a long time," Toth said.

Toth believes that the United States victory in the Balaton Cup will convince younger players to adopt the necessary attitudes for success. "I think it was big for the program," he said.

Perera was selected as the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Toth was chosen as the Balaton Cup's top goalkeeper.

The 2018-19 MASL season will include 24 regular-season games for each team and the Sockers' home opener will take place Dec. 16. Toth and the rest of the Sockers will return to practice in early December.


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