By 3Ssoccer Media
On a stormy night when the game itself was threatened, diehard soccer fans were treated to a statement game. The Stars qualified for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup after reaching the NPSL National Semifinals in their inaugural season in 2021. The team from Hattiesburg, MS made their 2022 debut count with a show of skill and creativity that left their fans clamoring for more.
The game started nervously for both sides after a 30-minute lightning delay and sheets of sideways rain fell onto the pitch. Quickly, the Stars settled into a rhythm and began connecting passes. In the 26th minute, newcomer Mason Walsh beat his defender down the left sideline and sent a left-footed cross into the box onto the right foot of fellow newcomer Jean Lucas Rivera who volleyed it for a spectacular goal. Walsh had a tremendous debut for the Stars. The son of Paul Walsh, an England National Team player, is a reigning NPSL National XI player. Four minutes after assisting Rivera for the opening goal, Walsh almost created another goal when his right-footed strike at the edge of the box went off the left goalpost.
By the end of the first half, Southern States had a 1-0 lead and the bulk of possession. The Georgia Revolution opened the second half with a burst of energy, but momentum permanently shifted to the Stars in the 65th minute when Clayton Adams completed a defensive takeover in midfield, streaked to the left edge of the penalty box, and crossed a lovely ball to striker Tom Shepard in front of the goalbox for the Stars’ second goal. Clayton Adams is another new player for the Stars with an impressive pedigree having played in the USL Championship and League One. Adams had a very strong debut with aggressive offensive plays and reliable defensive positioning.
The Stars played with confidence, displays of individual skill, and elegant teamwork. Their third goal in the 73rd minute was emblematic. Shepard made a defensive play at midfield that teammate J.R. Cozine took over, carried towards goal, and found a streaking Rivera on the right side. Rivera then took a touch into the box to allow him to lift a soft cross to Shepard who finished the sequence he initiated with a lovely volley. Shepard, who plays college soccer at Cal State Bakersfield, was the Stars’ top scorer last year. He started the 2022 campaign in style earning a brace before being subbed off.
The debut of Jean Lucas Rivera was also notable. Not only did he score the first goal and assist the third, he was constantly threatening the Revolution defense. Rivera arrives at Southern States with arguably the most impressive pedigree having previously played in Colombia’s first division.
The Georgia Revolution never gave up and put up a noble fight. Their resolve was rewarded in the 83rd minute with a goal from Karim Tmimi to make the game 3-1.
Revolution coach Jack Marchant was pleased with his team’s effort.
“I can’t fault anything that they’ve done…the way that they worked together, it has been a superb trip,” Marchant said. “These guys can hold their heads up high.”
Stars coach Carl Reynolds commented on his team’s process.
“We had to remain really patient with the weather and everything,” Reynolds said. “We talked about controlling the controllable and our preparation. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. I’ve absolutely loved the past couple of weeks with them and can’t wait for the next however many months.”
Walsh, who had only joined the Stars five days prior, was asked about his team’s style of play.
“We ball out,” Walsh said. “We have an amazing surface to play on. The passages of play that we have are fantastic. We move the ball well and have people up top that can finish the end product.”
The Stars now move on to the second round of the US Open Cup where they will face the Birmingham Legion of the USL Championship. The game will be played on Thursday, April 7th at 7:00 pm in Birmingham, AL.
Photo Credit: Nigel Boulton, Danny Reynolds, Drew Wooten