By Pensacola FC
Pensacola FC hosted the visiting Southern States Soccer Club in a NPSL Gulf Coast Conference match-up at the Ashton Brosnaham Stadium. Southern States entered the match coming off a win against Tallahassee SC, while Pensacola FC’s last match was a heavy away defeat to Jacksonville Armada FC U-23. They also had their midweek match away to AFC Mobile canceled due to inclement weather.
Things got started off early on as the visitors looked to stamp their authority on the proceedings by applying an early press on Pensacola’s defense. However, things took an early turn in Pensacola’s favor as they were awarded a free kick just on the left side of the Stars box in the third minute. Pensacola captain Michael Lightbourne placed a beautifully weighted free kick into the box, and towering defender Lorenzo Periera-Weber was left unmarked for an easy finish on the back post. That lead only lasted seconds as Southern States found themselves on the score sheet to even the game at 1-1 in the fourth minute when Carson Hickok directed the ball into his own net after a cross from Stars forward Jean Luca Rivera Murillo.
That goal did not seem to trouble the home side as they started getting settled into the game. Pensacola’s midfield trio of Lightbourne, James Morrissey, and Bernardo Torres was starting to become a threat to the Stars. Then in the 24th minute Pensacola was awarded a penalty as Prince Owusu was taken down in the box after forcing the Stars defense to give up possession. Up stepped Lightbourne who converted from the spot for a 2-1 Pensacola lead after 25 minutes.
This sparked more confidence in the home side as they struck again in the 31st minute when they forced the Stars to give up possession 35 yards away from goal. The ball fell to the ever-busy Lightbourne who put in a man of the match performance for the home side. Lightbourne dribbled past one Stars defender, and when it looked like he had lost his angle, unleashed a shot to the bottom right hand corner of the Stars goal. This was Lightbourne’s third goal of the season. This brought the home crowd to their feet as Pensacola entered the second half with a two-goal advantage and were hoping to wrap up their second home win of the season.
Southern States came out for the second half determined to close the deficit. They started asserting themselves on the game as they worked to push Pensacola back in search of getting that second goal. The Stars were seeing more possession of the ball, and every attack looked like they were going to create a chance. This started causing some panic among the Pensacola players as they were having trouble dealing with the pressure from the Stars. Goalkeeper Mark McMillan had to come up with some crucial saves as Tom Shepard was starting to get some chances that could have brought the Stars back into the game.
If Pensacola were to come away with three points, they had to show some defensive resilience as fatigue and tired legs began showing in their players.
Lightbourne shared his thoughts after the match.
“I think our team came out very strong in the first 45 minutes and created some good chances,” Lightbourne said. “Southern States is a great side who tested us in the second 45 minutes, but it was important for us as a group to stay disciplined as we gave up a couple of leads already this season.”
Lightbourne also reflected on his incredible performance that included two goals and one assist.
“I was feeling confident from the spot, and my second goal came from a great team press and selfless running from my teammates,” Lightbourne
Retsin Kabambala also shared his impressions from the win.
“The team performance was really good,” Kabambala said. “I’m proud of the boys. We knew Southern States would come at us and try to press us. Our coach told us not to be nervous, just move the ball quick, and we will be fine.”
Up next for both sides is a rematch in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on June 2.
Photo Credit: Steven MacNaughton