By Tyler Andreas/Jackson Lions FC
The Jackson Lions took on Atlantic City FC at 4:00 pm on Saturday, June 18th at Rowan University in a match that saw the former partner clubs coming up against each other for the first time in the NPSL. Going into the contest, the Lions sat in eighth place on four points and five matches played. A win would put them just two points off of fourth-place West Chester United SC and right back in the mix for playoff contention. Atlantic City sat on four points as well, but after seven matches played. Their goal differential of -12 meant that they occupied 10th place in the conference table before kickoff.
The Lions were without six starters from last week’s outing. Included in this crop of missing players was Guiseppe Barone, the midfield general who is off playing in the second division in Slovenia. The Lions also missed Joel Quist, Dan Pizzimenti, Mark Walier, David Nigro, and Chris Thorsheim. However, Walter Calderon, the club’s leading scorer, was on hand for the match.
Owner and assistant coach Mike Durazzo expressed excitement about the introduction of a player that he hopes will fix some of the Lions defensive issues in his pre-match comments.
“Brandon Golden is the type of guy we need right now,” Durazzo said. “He was a starter at Hofstra in their back line and played at Rutgers before that. He’s really going to help us today.”
The former Philly Union youth player made his Lions FC NPSL debut as part of the starting lineup in a back line that also included Enir Radoncic, Joey Zalinsky, and Brandon Kolczynski. The Lions took the pitch in a 4-3-3 with a holding midfielder sitting deep.
The first half started with Jackson looking to dominate possession through their young midfield which included Walter Baretto and Leo Montesinos. Both players started the match off extremely well in a midfield three that also factored in the day’s captain and Lions veteran Kevin Simek.
In the 12th minute, the Lions were able to make the breakthrough when Baretto pounced on a poor backwards pass from an Atlantic City defender and easily put the ball in an empty net. This team scores early and often, but this match was about proving that they can defend leads, which they did for the remainder of the half.
Atlantic City did grow into the half and create a few half chances, but the Lions maintained the momentum and control by forcing several saves out of Atlantic City’s keeper and maintaining their dominance over the midfield.
The second half was a completely different story than the first. The Lions started by making two changes with Dan Russo and Tommy Johnson replacing Kolczynski and Jason LaViola.
Russo looked like he wanted to make an immediate impact and began the half linking up with Calderon. The pair were able to put together a couple good early chances around that linkup, but nothing that truly paid off with that third goal they were looking for.
Around the 50th minute, Atlantic City began looking dangerous particularly in a moment where their right winger flew past two defenders after a counter attack and flashed his shot just wide. The effort would have left Justin Gemellaro well beaten had it been on frame.
In the 57th minute, ACFC tied the match with a low drilled effort to Gemellaro’s right. The three minutes that followed were absolutely wild. After the restart, with the score tied 1-1, the Lions marched down the pitch to retake the lead after a great cross from Calderon landed at the feet of Miguel Alves, who finished into the roof of the net.
Even with the Lions now leading 2-1, Atlantic City was visibly determined not to let all of their hard work go to waste as they lined up for their own restart, no more than 60 seconds after they watched Jackson do just the same. Their determination was rewarded when they were awarded a penalty not 10 seconds after the restart. After the official blew his whistle to signal the resumption of play, Atlantic City immediately went direct and served a ball directly into the Jackson penalty area. The ball fell awkwardly between an ACFC forward and Joey Zalinsky. In the mix-up, the referee decided he had seen the ball make contact with Zalinsky’s hand and immediately pointed to the spot.
Atlantic City converted the penalty in the 60th minute to make the score 2-2.
This lightning-fast series of events sent the match into somewhat of a temperamental spiral. By the 70th minute, the referee had given out three yellow cards, and the total would reach six by the end of the night.
In the 76th minute ACFC’s left winger, after some impressive skill, was tripped inside the Jackson area and awarded the sides second penalty of the night, which was converted to make the score 3-2. The rest of the game was chippy and frustrating as the momentum had clearly shifted thoroughly in the favor of the home side, and Jackson just couldn’t swing it. There were some good chances, but no Jackson player was able to properly sink his teeth in any of them.
Jackson should have won this game, and they needed to win this game. In a season where things just haven’t gone their way, three points against this side would have really proven the unlucky nature of their results against the top four teams of the Keystone Conference and kept them fighting for a playoff spot.
The Lions play Torch FC at home next Saturday at 7:00 pm at Donovan Catholic High School in Toms River, NJ.
Photos Courtesy of Jackson Lions FC