By Tyler Andreas/Jackson Lions FC
In a massive step towards their future, the Jackson Lions had their home opener on Wednesday, June 1st in Toms River, NJ at Donovan Catholic High School. Ironically enough, this momentous occasion had them coming up against an old dance partner in FC Motown. The two teams have been playing each other for some time now, and while this game should and will come to be considered a meaningful derby in the NPSL East Region’s Keystone Conference, it is one that is borne out of mutual respect. The matchup not only represents the current success of the Lions, but also the path they took to arrive here, a path along which FC Motown has featured heavily.
Even though the Lions are the “new boys” of this league, they are used to the level of play required to compete, as everyone saw against FC Monmouth. The Lions boast several important members of their squad who are acclimated to the competition, and went into this match featuring players who have battled with Motown on many occasions.
Matt Fryc, a Jackson native and Lions veteran who has even spent some time at FC Monmouth, spoke about the rivalry with Motown and how he pictured the match going.
“Motown is always bringing in high quality players that keep raising the level, but really our motivation comes from within the Lions,” Fryc said. “We are a group of guys that have been playing together for a long time in the local areas, even prior to the Lions. This connection we have really motivates us to keep raising the level and get the team competing at the highest level we can. It will definitely be a great game.”
Jackson Lions FC Owner Mike Durazzo also commented on the rivalry.
“In the last four years, we are the only two teams to become state champs,” Durazzo said. “They’ve won it three times. We’ve won it once. They’re our greatest rivals. These are the games that we strive to be a part of. Both of these teams, we make each other better.”
Over two hundred people turned out on this rainy Wednesday night to see what the hype is all about with this high-level rivalry, and the match did not disappoint.
The Lions got off to a flying start in what should have been their dream NPSL home debut, scoring in the very first minute of the match and even pushing to a 3-0 lead within the first 40 minutes.
The first goal was scored by Walter Calderon after Joel Quist, following a great run behind Motown’s backline, cut the ball back where Calderon was waiting to finish. A nervy ten minutes followed as both teams dealt with the lightning-fast goal, and things almost got twice as bad for Motown when Quist was caught narrowly offside as he stroked home the would-be second goal. By the 20th minute, the Lions had regained full control with a clear midfield dominance facilitated by the hard work of Junior Miranda and Guiseppe Barone. Their coverage allowed David Nigro to get forward and cause problems for Motown with his creativity and vision, and he created several very good chances.
Motown was seeing limited success during this period through their right back Samuel Ashitey, whose pace allowed him to slip past Kevin Kappock once or twice to whip in some testing crosses. This was about all Motown could get going during the large majority of the half though. They also looked to play through Joe Fala in more direct moments, whose size and hold-up play helped to relieve the pressure that their midfield was experiencing.
In the 21st minute the Lions scored their second goal through, once again, a moment of absolute brilliance from Calderon. After a Jackson corner was over hit by Barone and Motown looked to play the ball out of the back, Calderon took advantage of a moment of sleepiness by picking the pocket of a defender and turning and firing the ball into the top corner from more than 20 yards out. At this point it looked like the Lions were going to cruise to another easy victory and go home well in the mix for Keystone Conference honors, especially after captain Dan Pizzimenti slotted home a penalty in the 39th minute to make the score 3-0.
Motown’s frustration with the situation was evidenced by the fact that they received two yellow cards in the first half. Nigro also received one of his own.
However, we all know that this game is one of momentum, and in the 41st minute, the momentum shifted when Barone committed a foul 40 yards from the Jackson goal. The ensuing free kick was lofted into the box and headed home by Joe Fala, who would take confidence from the moment going into halftime. The Lions looked slightly rattled, but closed out the half with professionalism.
As they say about momentum in this game, they also say about halves, and Motown came out for the second period of play ready to prove that. Whatever was said to them in the locker room during the break had a massive effect on their performance because they stepped back onto the pitch with a different swagger about them, and immediately put the pressure on the Lions midfield. Whatever tactical changes were made effectively choked out the dominance the Lions midfield was experiencing in the first half.
In the 52nd minute, Motown made the breakthrough with a great goal as one of their second half substitutes finished a swift counter attack by tucking his effort low and to Jhan Mayorga’s left. By this point Motown looked in absolute control of the game, and the Lions were left scrambling to hold onto their lead as Mayorga was called to action time and time again and forced to pull out some top-shelf saves. Unfortunately, his heroics were not enough because in the 70th minute, Fala struck once again after a low cross was allowed to make its way all the way across Mayorga’s goal where Fala was waiting to finish with his left into the bottom corner. The Lions never threw in the towel, but at this point it looked like a draw would be a good result.
This went from bad to nightmarish in the 80th minute when a Motown free kick resulted in the ball deflecting off of Nigro and into the Jackson net. What makes this even worse is that just moments before, Fryc hit the crossbar after Nigro flicked on a wonderfully delivered dead ball by Joey Zalinsky. The remainder of the match was spent white knuckled as Motown desperately defended their unlikeliest of leads, and Jackson chased a game that was once only theirs to lose. It did not finish without its dramatics either as Motown received two yellow cards in injury time: one for time wasting, and one for the blatant stoppage of a counter attack. As it were, the game finished 4-3 in Motown’s favor.
All in all, the Lions staff and players know that they let a big opportunity slip through their hands here. Jackson Lions FC assistant coach Sal DeSimone was honest in his evaluation after the game.
“It’s a devastating loss, no ifs about it,” DeSimone said. “To be up three goals and not be able to close it out is frustrating to say the least. We are grateful for the immense crowd that came out and supported us in the rain. Now all we can do is go forward and bounce back next week in PA.”
Despite this result, this Lions team remains experienced, hungry, and intense. Expect to see them do exactly what DeSimone hopes for and recover in a major way next Wednesday when they come up against Electric City Shock FC in Scranton, PA.
Photos Courtesy of Jackson Lions FC