By Jackson Lions FC
The Jackson Lions finally made their NPSL debut on Wednesday evening after having their intended debut and home opener against FC Motown called off due to weather last Saturday. Their opponents, Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals, were fresh and ready for battle as this was also their season opener.
The Lions went into the match missing five of their regular starters, who were replaced with a youthful contingent.
Head coach Brad Fraley commented on his side’s youth before the match.
“I think the young talent is going to be the difference today,” Fraley said. “I think they’re going to step up in a big way and really contribute to those key moments in the game. Five of our normal starters are missing. But being so deep, as we are, you really don’t miss a beat.”
The Lions set up in a 3-5-2 against their opponent’s 4-2-3-1, looking to apply early pressure and win control of the midfield. Jackson looked the calmer of the two teams in the first 10 to 15 minutes. The Lions held the majority of the possession, failing to convert two glorious early chances as Joel Quist and Walter Calderon linked up on both occasions. The Ukrainian Nationals, who played a high line, were there to be exposed early.
Things changed in the 15th minute when the Nationals’ Nevin Baer scored a clinically placed low shot from outside of the box after a turnover in the Lions’ midfield. The next ten minutes were all Ukrainian as the Lions began taking a more direct approach, looking slightly rattled by the goal which came against the run of play. By the 20th minute things had calmed down and evened out. However, a penalty shot in the 25th minute put the fire back into the game as the referee decided it was just outside of the box.
By the 30th minute the Lions looked frustrated as they looked to pull the trigger several times from over 20 yards out. They looked too direct, and Fraley looked like he knew had a job on his hands for halftime. But there were positives as well. The possession and the fight were there. They were just missing that finishing touch and a little bit of luck. They would have gone into halftime in a totally different situation if either of the two early chances were converted,.
But as it were, in the 39th minute Nationals’ Josh Jones hammered home a finish from close range, set up by Jimi Leder, who entered the game in the 19th minute. The Lions went into the half with some major adjustments to be made.
The Lions came out in the second half having made two substitutions. Walter Baretto replaced Miguel Alves, and Enir Radoncic replaced Brandon Kolczynski. The away team looked great for the majority of the half, creating three early chances, maintaining control over possession, and winning several set pieces from dangerous positions. However, the home side’s keeper was up to every challenge that was thrown his way on the night.
The Ukrainian Nationals came out for the second half looking ready to defend their lead, rather than extend it. They effectively shut up shop for the entire half by packing everyone in behind the ball, not allowing the Jackson attack any room to work in. The Lions did have a bit of success going down the flanks, and put some dangerous balls into the area on several occasions but just couldn’t find the back of the net. Josh Jones of the Ukrainian Nationals went off injured in the 60th minute.
The Lions maintained the pressure until the final minute of the game. Quist was stopped once again by the keeper in the 80th minute, who also made a brilliant save to deny Jacob Rubinstein’s headed effort from the ensuing corner kick.
In the end Jackson Lions FC just didn’t take their chances properly. The Ukrainian Nationals were direct and clinical, just as Fraley pointed out prior to the match.
“I’m expecting a lot of pressure, for them to play very direct, and to be very good on set pieces,” Fraley said.
The NPSL is a new level for most of the Lions. Rubinstein, the Lions vet who has spent time playing for FC Monmouth in the NPSL, shared his thoughts on the competition.
“It’s definitely a much higher level competition than we have seen in the GSSL,” Rubinstein said. “We knew what we needed to be ready for. Unfortunately we just had two big mistakes early that put us in a hole for the rest of the game. It was unfortunate that we let them score first. I think I was clear that the majority of the game we had the possession. They parked the bus. It was really hard to break them down.”
This match will be looked at as a lesson for the young Lions that were involved in that action tonight. It will serve as a reminder that in certain games it does not matter how much of the ball you have, or whether you outplayed your opponent or not. What matters are the small moments, and the mistakes to be capitalized on.
The Lions will look to bounce back against FC Monmouth on Saturday, May 21.
Photo Credit: Tyler Andreas/Jackson Lions FC