By Tyler Andreas/Jackson Lions FC
The Jackson Lions marked the midway point of their NPSL campaign on Saturday, June 11th when they played host to West Chester United Soccer Club who sat in fourth place in the Keystone Conference. It was a rainy night at Donovan Catholic High School in Toms River, New Jersey but that did not stop the fans from showing up in large numbers to watch their side try to claw back into contention for a spot in the playoffs. Local youth teams and other Lions faithful packed into the ground, and many were seen donning Lions scarves. They would witness a very exciting contest as the two sides battled back and forth for the full 90 minutes.
Jackson took the field in a 4-3-3 diamond, a deviation from head coach Brad Fraley’s preferred 5-3-2 with Chris Thorsheim and Guiseppe Barone sitting deep behind Dave Nigro who likes to get involved in the final third. This seems to have been a decision that was made in order to squeeze an extra forward onto the pitch in an effort to cause problems for West Chester’s back line.
West Chester lined up in what looked like a 4-3-2-1, looking to pack out the midfield with Ayoub Mouhou playing the part of the lone striker.
Lions leading goal scorer Walter Calderon, who currently sits on six goals in this summer’s competition, got the party started in the very first minute with a goal seemingly coming out of nowhere. The goal came as a result of some great work in the left hand corner by Dan Russo, who in his first NPSL start beat a West Chester defender on the byline to whip in a low cross for Calderon to stroke home with the inside of his left boot.
The inclusion of Russo in the starting eleven meant that the Lions would be adding another proven goal scorer to the already prolific partnership of Calderon and Joel Quist. Fraley’s decision to start the young forward in that extra attacking spot paid off in the 14th minute when he ran off the shoulder of West Chester’s right fullback onto a tactically placed ball played by Barone from inside his own half. Russo took it down with ease, held off the defender, and slotted low to West Chester keeper’s right to increase their lead to 2-0.
This Lions team has been making a habit of going up very early in these matches with their electric energy in the opening minutes. Unfortunately, they have also been making a habit of giving those leads up. In the 22nd minute, seemingly out of nowhere, Brian Timoney collected the ball thrown in by Chris Comber, drove straight at the heart of the Lions defense, slid it onto his left foot, and curled it into the side netting past the outstretched hands of Justin Gellemaro.
The goal would give West Chester confidence over the next 20 minutes as, for the first time on the night, they were able to hold onto sustained periods of possession. During this spell they also became more aggressive with their pressing, and Jackson began to find more difficulty holding the ball.
However, with the score now at 2-1, Jackson still looked like they were pushing hard for their third, and were denied on multiple occasions by Ryan Gross. Russo and Quist were both stuffed from very close range.
In the 43rd minute, a ball that should have been dealt with fell to the feet of West Chester’s Thomas Skrocki inside the Jackson penalty area. Skrocki settled the ball with a touch and fired it straight into the roof of Gellermo’s goal. The score would remain at a draw going into halftime.
Team co-owner Andy Weinstein was on hand inside the Donovan Catholic press box during half time to give his thoughts on the atmosphere and how the team was looking out on the pitch in that first half.
“People are getting to watch a really good game,” Wienstein said. “Hopefully they get to see us score a few more goals. I think we are a team that scores really quickly, but sometimes we have a bit of a mental lapse. I know we’ll fix it though.”
The only change made at the half for either side was that of Ryan Gross, who was replaced by Alexander Dolce in the West Chester goal. It was not clear if Gross had sustained an injury or if he was replaced for tactical reasons.
Dolce’s half did not get off to the best start, and with that, Weinstein’s words just moments before became slightly prophetic. In the 45th minute, just as quickly as in the first half, the Lions scored to make it 3-0. The goal was scored by Quist who headed home a set piece delivered by club captain Dan Pizzimenti. However, this lead lasted a mere 19 minutes until misfortune found itself tacked onto the right boot of Enir Radoncic.
When a dangerous cross was sent into Jackson’s penalty area, Radoncic made an effort to clear with the outside of his foot. The ball spun off his boot and right into the top corner of the Jackson goal, making the score 3-3.
The rest of the match was nervy to say it best. The Lions did maintain very high pressure, and probably should have scored, but West Chester’s backline was all bend and no break. Not to mention the heroics from Dolce in the 54th minute, off the back of a mad scramble in front of the away side’s goal.
Three points in this game would have been huge for either team involved. For the Lions, it would have sent them into the second half of the season with a comfortable point total that would leave them with confidence to build on. For West Chester, it would have meant putting some more distance between themselves and the rest of the pack along with beginning to close the gap on Motown.
However, despite some genuine chances by both sides to gather all three points, in the end they were meant to be shared. One point is better than none.
The Lions made only one substitution in the contest when Matt Nigro replaced his younger brother Dave in the middle of the park. West Chester made seven changes throughout the match. There were four yellow cards doled out by the officiating crew.
The Lions head to Atlantic City next weekend to take on Atlantic City FC, a team that they once loaned players out to with regularity. The match is bound to entertain.
Photos Courtesy of Jackson Lions FC