By Ivor Castle/Southern States SC
Having lost at home to the Southern States SC Stars in U-19 pilot action over a week ago, the Florida Roots took sweet revenge with a 4-2 road victory over the same opponent on Sunday in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
The game was goalless through the first 45 minutes, the half finishing at 0-0. Neither side had established any real dominance in the opening half though the Stars had the better of the possession and the territory but failed to convert those advantages into goalscoring opportunities.
The most notable events in the first half were a yellow card for Stars midfielder Liam Bennett and the loss of Stars center back Samuel Dadzie to injury. Dadzie’s second-half absence may well have had an effect on the final scoreline.
Unlike the first 45 minutes, the second half had no lack of action. The visitors took the lead just two minutes after the restart when under no pressure, the Stars defense gave the ball away and Braden Masker for the Roots finished off a swift counter to open the game up.
Five minutes later the visitors roared into a two-goal lead when Zac Bischoff rose highest from a corner kick and powered an unstoppable header into the net.
The Stars who were already reeling from the first goal now found themselves in a deeper hole and needed digging out. Stars head coach Carl Reynolds made substitutions and tactical changes that were at the heart of their recovery.
As the home team slowly got on top, some fine interplay around the Roots box allowed Andre Deas to dance in and slide the ball into the corner of the net and haul his team back into the game with 72 minutes gone.
Immediately from the kickoff, from a strong press, the Stars stole the ball and Michael Colburn ran in on goal only to see his firm shot saved by goalkeeper Logan Cooley. The ball rebounded against a defender’s hand and the referee pointed to the spot for a Stars penalty kick. It was looking like an amazing comeback, but more drama ensued as Deas’ kick was saved by the again unlucky Cooley, but Deas pounced on the rebound to turn the ball into an empty net for 2-2 on 74 minutes.
The momentum had turned, and for the next ten minutes it looked like the Stars could now go on and win the game. However, Bischoff outdid both of Deas’ efforts with two of his own and grabbed an unbelievable hat trick, all from headers and all from dead ball kicks.
In the 83rd minute, Noah Roblin’s unnecessary push on a Roots player in the middle of the field set up a chance for the visitors to get the ball in the Stars penalty area and relieve some pressure. The subsequent high ball, a hallmark of the Roots free kicks on the night, sailed into the area. As Stars keeper Diego Gutierrez advanced to take control, he was beaten to the ball by Bischoff’s headed flick, and it dropped into the goal to put the visitors back in front at 3-2.
This left the Stars with just seven minutes plus any added time for injuries, to find another equalizer. But it was the Roots who scored next, sealing the win with another Bischoff header from a free kick. A Stars loose pass in the midfield led to Nico Martinez conceding a foul. The predictable high ball was pumped in and this time Gutierrez decided to stay on his line allowing Bischoff to dash in and head home yet again.
A remarkable second half had seen six goals netted and a rare headed hat trick of goals by Bischoff and a 4-2 road win for the Florida side.
“It was a good game of football played by both sides, right, a few extra goals for us on some set pieces and that was really the difference in the game, otherwise I thought it could have gone either way,” Roots head coach Larry Cecchini said.
“Considering this is the first time I’ve ever scored a hat-trick in general, it’s a pretty amazing feeling for sure, all on headers, it’s the best feeling in the world, I loved it, amazing,” Bischoff stated.
Meanwhile Reynolds was left to ponder what might have been.
“It’s been spoken about all week,” Reynolds concluded. “A lot of these guys for a few years now are playing good football and understanding the game tactically and technically but it is not always enough. You’ve got to want to compete, you’ve got to want to do the horrible parts of the game as well, and they (the Roots) did that way better than us today, so we can’t expect anything out of the game if we don’t want to compete in that way.”
Photo Credit: 3S Media