After a hard-fought match featuring multiple red cards and an extra time game-winner, the Elm City Express came away with all three points in their home opener, beating opponents TSF FC 2-1. Saturday night’s match was more than just a home opener for the Express, as it was also their first time playing at Southern Connecticut State University’s Jess Dow Field rather than Yale’s Reese Stadium, which they called home last season. The Express’s performance certainly did not disappoint the hundreds of fans who came to the new stadium on this crisp June night to support their home team.
Just fifty seconds after kickoff, Elm City’s Shaquille Saunchez dribbled past two defenders and drilled a venomous cross into the area, only to see it pass through the six- yard box untouched. Buoyed by the enthusiasm of their home crowd, the Express dominated the first few minutes of play, keeping the majority of possession, moving the ball quickly, and threatening at an early goal. Despite their aggressive mindset, the Express were not able to find the back of the net and TSF FC soon clawed its way back into the game. Elm City’s offensive pressure waned and TSF began to possess the ball with more authority. As play evened out after the first fifteen minutes, both teams settled for hopeful long balls played into the teeth of the opposing defense.
In the 25th minute, however, the tenor of the match changed significantly. Saunchez, desperate to win his team a loose ball, slid into the back of TSF’s Luis Mendoza and was punished with a straightaway red card. Saunchez’s expulsion transformed the match. With all the momentum behind them, TSF FC poured numbers forward, looking to strike while the Express were still adjusting to playing a man down. The pressure almost paid off in the 33rd minute, when a shot from TSF’s Esteban Molina beat the Elm City goalkeeper and forced an exceptional clearance off the line.
On the very next play, TSF finally broke through the back line of the Express. Andrew Nino picked up the ball on the left wing and had one thought in mind: go to goal. He drove into the box and unleashed a low shot across the face of goal and into the bottom right corner. The intense nature of the game was obvious as Nino and his TSF teammates celebrated passionately while most of the stadium fell silent in disappointment. Playing with ten men and down a goal, the Express found themselves in a deep hole as halftime loomed.
Over the next several minutes, the Express showed resilience, working hard to keep the ball and slow down the tempo of play. Just five minutes later, the Express stumbled upon the stroke of luck they needed to gain a foothold in the match. The goal scorer, TSF’s Nino, caught an Express midfielder with his elbow while attempting to make a tackle. Without hesitation, the referee reached into his back pocket and once again procured the red card. With both teams down to ten men, the atmosphere at Jess Dow Field heated up once again.
Both teams took advantage of the halftime break to work out new formations. Neither team made any substitutions: TSF FC worked around the loss of Nino while Express coach Teddy Haley shifted his formation from four defenders to three in order to maintain offensive continuity.
Haley explained after the game that his goal was to get keep of the ball.
“When we get into a rhythm, we create chances.”
As soon as the second-half whistle blew, the results of Haley’s changes began to show on the field as the Express dominated possession and returned to the fast-paced passing that brought them success at the beginning of the first half.
TSF FC managed to clear several dangerous attempts from the Express. TSF FC winger John Gonzales found himself with an opportunity to put the game to bed in the 67th minute but wasted his one-on-one chance with the keeper. The Express, having survived that scare, kept pushing for a goal. In the 70th minute, Anthony Asante powerfully headed the ball off of a high cross from the right flank but saw his effort bounce off of the crossbar. On the next play, Asante, not discouraged by hitting the woodwork, picked up the ball on the left flank and drove to the box. In a flash he cut inside, splitting two defenders, who brought him down from behind: penalty. Moments later TSF FC’s head coach was sent off.
Asante stepped up to the penalty spot but saw his effort saved by TSF FC keeper Mateo Zabala. It simply did not seem to be the Express’s night. If there was exasperation in the stands, the players showed none of it; they kept fighting and pushing onwards, determined to reap the rewards of their perseverance and effort.
The Express players could feel a goal coming, and their relentless pressure paid off in the 79th minute, when Express defender Kevin Ipina dexterously finished Miguel Carneiro’s cross from the left side. The Express wasted no time celebrating, instead sprinting back with the ball.
They were not going to be satisfied with a tie. In the 82nd minute, the Express came close to their first lead of the game when defender Graciano Brito saw his towering header swatted off the line by Zabala.
As the clock ran out, the Express fans were beginning to accept that perhaps their team simply did not have another goal in them. An incredible eight minutes of added time, however, afforded them critical extra chances. After going close from a free kick in the 93rd minute, the game once again seemed destined to end in a tie. But Asante was not done yet.
“We’ve been missing a lot of chances this season, and I told myself I was gonna score this game. After I missed the penalty, I knew I was close. I kept my head up and my teammates motivated me.”
His infallible confidence paid off in the 96th minute, when he powerfully headed midfielder Tyler Carlos’s cross into the bottom corner, giving Elm City the lead with only seconds left in the game. As the fans in the stands jumped with joy, Asante ran to the bench to hug his teammates who had held him up even after his missed penalty. The Express had come out on top against all odds, rallying from a 1-0 deficit and a numbers disadvantage to earn their first win of the season.
Haley was happy with the win, recognizing the importance of the result after
losing the first game of the season. The Express move to ninth in the North Atlantic Conference table, with a record of 1-1. TSF FC stay in eighth, one spot ahead of the Express, with a record of 0-3-2.
Contributor: Bruno Moscarini, Ethan Pritchard, and Luca Richo/Elm City Express
Photo Credit: Elm City Express