By Tyler Andreas/Jackson Lions FC
Jackson Lions FC traveled west to Scranton, PA to take on the Electric City Shock in their fourth NPSL outing, looking to bring their record back to even with another win on the road. They would compete against unfamiliar opposition in the contingent playing out of the Pocono Mountains, who sat in second place in the Keystone Conference, just two points behind Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals.
After the disappointing result last week at home against FC Motown, the Lions found themselves in need of points fast. When asked how important three points were tonight, Lions head coach Brad Fraley replied simply,“Three points means everything.”
Despite some potential nerves about results, the night was also one that was met with anticipation from the Lions faithful as they hoped to finally see Daniel Russo, another Jackson native (following in the footsteps of Matt Fryc), make his NPSL debut. This would come after the young attacking player met up with the Lions following a successful sophomore year playing at Notre Dame. He helped them reach the NCAA College Cup semifinals, scoring crucial goals along the way. Russo is exactly the type of player the Lions are looking to continually attract to their program: young, hungry, and confident.
Ritchie Russo is a Lions first-team coach, who also happens to be Daniel’s uncle. He was full of optimism and excitement about his nephew’s potential to have an impact on tonight’s match.
“I think if we see him play tonight, he’s going to have a big impact for sure,” Russo said. “He’s a special player and a special kid. I’m really proud of him.”
Despite the excitement about his involvement, Daniel Russo ultimately started on the bench. This, combined with the absences of Walter Calderon, Matt Fryc, Jhan Mayorga, and Dan Pizzinemti, made way for some other young Lions to attempt to leave an imprint on this squad already bursting with talent.
This young team started the game with effective pressing and a clear possession-based style of play. Early on the Lions dictated the pace of the game through controlling the possession through the midfield, and setting Tommy Johnson and Mark Walier loose down the flanks. Both put in some very dangerous balls in the first 20 minutes after running onto balls into the channels, or taking on Electric City’s full backs themselves. This style paid off in the 14th minute when Dave Nigro finished off a low cross which came as a result of a throw-in from deep within Electric City’s defensive zone. Following this Jackson created several more quality opportunities, but failed to convert on any of them.
Electric City’s tactic early on was to get the ball into Micah Parsons and Leo D’Ambrosio in the midfield, who would look to turn and switch the play swiftly and progressively. The Lions dealt with this approach comfortably up until in the 20th minute when Electric City’s Leo D’Ambrosio slotted low to Justin Gemellaro’s left, tying the game.
The Lions regained some amount of control over possession following this with some lovely passing and effective pressing high up the pitch. However, their good work was put in jeopardy when Enir Radoncic made a tackle to deny Maruki Kawahara a chance to shoot. The referee immediately blew his whistle, pointing to the penalty spot.
Kawahara converted in the 42nd minute to put the home side up 2-1 going into the second half.
The second half started off immensely chippy with both teams receiving yellow cards in the first ten minutes, which would serve as foreshadowing for the rest of the match. One team was ready to defend a lead and rarely commit numbers forward. The other, who would go into the half feeling like they deserved more and were therefore susceptible to frustration, would find themselves clawing and scratching to no avail.
The frustration felt by the visiting side became clear and evident in the 70th minute when Joey Zalinsky was sent off after pulling down an Electric City attacker while already on a yellow card. In the 85th minute, Kevin Kappock was shown a straight red after an altercation with Daniel Akinrinbola in the Jackson penalty area. All in all, there were 14 cards shown in this game.
There were moments where Jackson could have gotten back into the game in the second half off the back of some substitutions that included the introduction of Russo. Junior Miranda and Leo Montesinos forced saves from Ruiz De Eguilaz within seconds of each other around the 60th minute. Nigro forced a smart save as well only five minutes earlier. That ended up being all Jackson, or Electric City for that matter, could muster in the second half.
After the match, assistant coach Sal Desimione was honest about the team’s performance.
“Frustrating loss on the road,” Desimione said. “We need to do better protecting leads. We need to do better dealing with adversity. We don’t have time to sulk with an opportunity to bounce back on Saturday at home.”
Desimione is right. The Lions have no time to sulk or feel sorry for themselves with Saturday’s matchup, and chance to regain some traction, against West Chester United SC rapidly approaching.
Be sure to catch the game on June 11th in person at Donovan Catholic HS in Toms River, NJ or online via the live stream.
Photos Courtesy of Jackson Lions FC