NPSL NATIONAL GAME OF THE WEEK: NC BATTALION VS. ALBION SC PROS

The highly anticipated “San Diego Derby” between the North County Battalion and Albion SC Pros was played on a gorgeous Saturday evening at Del Norte High School, home of NC Battalion. The two teams each entered their third match of the season sporting perfect 2-0-0 records from their opening games, and were looking to secure top spot on the table in the Southwest Conference.

The game itself was an end to end affair. NC Battalion came out firing on all cylinders as they launched straight into attack after attack on the Albion goal. In the 10th minute, Battalion striker Brandon Zuniga latched onto a ball driven through the midfield. Zuniga carried the ball across the face of the penalty area and found an onrushing Esteban Reyes with a slide rule pass that led Reyes behind the Albion backline. Reyes calmly collected the ball and with his second touch, slid a curling effort past Albion goalkeeper Jean Antoine.

The home supporters continued to urge on the Battalion who proceeded to create chance after chance in the opening 30 minutes. The Battalion failed to convert any of their chances during their early match dominance bar one which was called back as Reyes was ruled offside in the build up to what would have been his second goal of the game.

Albion Pros weathered the Battalion’s early siege and began to grow into the game as the first half wore on. In the 35th minute, Albion’s right winger, David Luquen capitalized on a mistake by the Battalion’s center back Justin Picou who slid in for a ball but missed entirely. Battalion goalkeeper Drew Tepping came off his line bravely to try and smother Luquen, but the Albion winger danced around the goalkeeper and slotted into an empty net.

The score remained knotted at 1-1 going into the halftime break. No personnel changes were made by either team as the coaches gave their instructions for the second half.

In the second half, Albion Pros looked to take the sting out of what had been a chastening match for them thus far. The Albion defenders and midfielders stopped playing the long speculative balls that they had been donating to the Battalion’s defense and instead looked to play out of the back with more deliberate and patient possession.

In the 59th minute Albion’s patience was rewarded as striker Tre Hayes put Albion ahead 2-1 after a good sequence of Albion play pried the Battalion’s defense open. Hayes made a darting run between the Battalion’s defenders and finished with aplomb to give the advantage to the visitors.

The Battalion responded immediately with a double substitution in the 60th minute. Off came Berrick Rastok and Eric Lopez, the reigning NPSL National Player of the Week. On came Sergio Ortiz and player-coach Ryan Guy. In the Battalion’s last game, Guy came on and changed the game with his intelligence and composure. The same could not be said for this week’s game. Albion were alert to the threat of Guy and seemed to swarm onto his every touch, denying him the space needed to impact the game.

Shortly after the Battalion’s double substitution, Albion were awarded a free kick in the 65th minute approximately 30 yards from goal in the left channel. Striker Matt Clare stepped up and put his free kick directly on goal instead of into the mix of players crowding the far side of the box. Battalion keeper Drew Tepping was wrong-footed and could not adjust quickly enough to repel the strike as Albion extended their lead 3-1.

In the 72nd minute Albion’s Luis Cardona was shown a straight red card for a wildly reckless tackle on Guy. Albion were reduced to 10 men for the remaining 20 minutes of the match, and though the Battalion made another substitution, bringing in Sean Ritchey and Michael Harrow and switching to a 3-5-2 formation, they were unable to translate their numerical superiority into another goal, despite creating numerous chances in the closing stages of the match.

With the result, Albion Pros move into first place alone at the top of the table after three games.NC Battalion drop into second place.

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