By Central Florida Panthers SC
Central Florida Panthers took the field for a competitive match for the first time since June of 2019 and it was a breath of fresh air. With the pandemic halting operations and providing a delayed start for preseason, the team took the field with a lot of excitement but without much experience playing together. It was great seeing a live sporting event, and there was a crowd of 148 gathered to watch two talented teams take the pitch.
It was a nervous start for the Panthers as they provided a couple clear chances to Storm FC but Scott Flores was able to get low and make a very quick save to keep the ball out of the net while the other two were off frame. As the 25th minute came around, the Panthers started settling down, earning the majority of possession and creating a couple of chances themselves but they were still unable to break the deadlock. The first half continued and Storm were doing very well to congest the final third for the Panthers, frustrating the home side as they kept creating half chance after half chance but losing the last pass before any danger arose.
In the 42nd minute Nazar Tsaruk broke through the defense but unfortunately poked the ball just wide. It felt like it was only a matter of time until the Panthers would break through and that occured in injury time when Branton Saunders headed home a cross from former Orlando City midfielder Will Johnson just before the break.
Coach Traxler and his staff made some tactical adjustments, and the team started to gain more confidence before the momentum truly swung in favor of the Panthers when Johnson’s 64th minute free kick hit a defender in the hand for a penalty kick. He was able to convert, bringing the score to 2-0.
The Panthers took control and more and more chances were being created. In the 68th minute, George New intercepted a pass which started a quick counter attack when Nazar Tsaruk’s through ball led forward Cole Cecconi on a 1v1 opportunity that he cleanly finished to make it a 3-0 lead.
Then the score increased to 4-0 when Tsaruk was sent on another through ball by New, beating both the offside trap and the Storm goalkeeper to the ball. This provided a wide open net to slot the ball home.
But it was in the 75th minute when the goal of the game came after a Storm attacker backheeled a pass towards his own player. Off of a single bounce 44 yards out, Johnson struck it well one time, beating the keeper off the line to bring the score to 5-0.
Not even a minute after entering the game, substitute Rodolfo Alvarez made a beautiful underlapping run, receiving a pass inside the penalty area before being fouled by the Storm keeper. He was awarded a penalty kick and was also able to convert, bringing the scoreline to 6-0.
Once the final whistle blew, the Panthers and the crowd celebrated the conclusion of the first competitive game since June of 2019. Now the focus turns to an away game at Naples United FC on May 23rd at Paradise Sports Complex.
The Panthers’ next home game will be Wednesday, May 26 vs. Miami Dutch Lions FC at Showalter Stadium. For tickets please click here.
Photo Credit: Nigel Worrall