By Tyler Andreas / Jackson Lions
The Jackson Lions went into this week’s Saturday evening NPSL matchup in 10th place on 4 points while their opponents, Torch FC, started the day in 7th place on 7 points. A win in the sweltering Toms River heat would have put Jackson right back in the fight for playoff contention and potentially leave them as high as fifth place on goal difference. It is worth remembering that the Lions had a game in hand on every team above them in the table going into this game barring West Chester, a newfound rival from this spring/summer season who the Lions narrowly lost to on penalties last Sunday in the Werner Fricker Region 1 Cup.
The Lions took the pitch lined up in a 4-3-3 and looked to play long early, trying to find the likes of Dan Russo and Walter Calderon in behind. This direct tactical approach almost paid off in the third minute when Russo found himself on the end of a wonderfully placed cross from Mark Walier, who was set free down the right flank by a brilliant flick from Calderon. Unfortunately, Russo was bested by the quick hands of Matthew Sheldon, but the Lions took confidence from this moment.
From the 10th minute through most of the remainder of the half the Lions switched to a possession-based approach, with most of the game being played in the middle of the park. Captain Dan Pizzimenti sat deep in front of the Lions back four during this period and looked to control the pace while Junior Miranda and Dave Nigro looked to exploit the half spaces in the final third. The pair were able to link up with Calderon and Russo to create a few other half-chances, but nothing that they were able to finish off. Jhan Paul Mayorga did not make his first save until the 27th minute.
The half looked like it was going to end 0-0 until the 37th minute when Luan Bressy Barbosa finished off a lightning-fast counter attack to put Torch FC up 1-0 against the run of play. Just moments later, Torch almost doubled their lead after a Matt Fryc error left Mayorga stranded with a lot to do. Luckily, Jhan Paul was up to the test and was able to stuff Kion Stewart’s effort from close range. Despite the disappointing nature of the goal and the nervy moment following it, the Lions finished the half very strong and even came inches away from equalizing through a Russo free kick that left the crossbar swaying.
The score remained 1-0 in favor of Torch FC going into the break.
For the start of the second half, the Lions took the field in a much more attack minded 3-5-2 formation in an effort to put the pressure on Torch’s back line. They also made four substitutions with Tommy Johnson, Leo Montesinos, Justin Gellemaro, and Miguel Alves replacing Junior Miranda, Mark Walier, Kevin Kappock, and Jhan Paul Mayorga. Tommy Johnson and Joey Zalinsky were the men chosen to push high and wide. Torch FC lined up in a 4-3-2-1 in an effort to defend their lead by packing numbers behind the ball.
The only real word to describe the first 15 minutes after the restart would be uneventful. Both teams looked a bit nervous and unwilling to throw caution to the wind to take control of the game. In the 60th minute Torch FC was awarded a free kick on the edge of the Jackson area that was deflected into the back of Gellemaro’s net off of the fortuitously placed forehead of Thiago De Silva Dos Santos. He just so happened to be in the way of Johnson’s attempted clearance.
This goal actually ended up being exactly what Jackson needed to kick them into gear because for the remainder of the game they looked dangerous every time they got on the ball. This holds true especially for halftime substitute Leo Montesinos who pulled back a goal for the Lions in the 70th minute after some brilliant work in the middle of the park. After a quickly taken free kick, Montesinos found Calderon on the edge of the box, who laid the ball into the path of Alves.
Alves then lofted the ball back into the box against the grain and into the path of Montesinos who smashed it home after continuing his run wonderfully.
Only three minutes later, Calderon found himself on the end of a Zalinsky corner. Jackson’s leading scorer nodded home the equalizer, simultaneously shifting the momentum into the favor of the home side. The effect this had on the team was tangible as they bombed forward time and again after pulling themselves back into a game that their opponents thought they’d already killed off. As they say, 2-0 is the most dangerous lead in the game. At this point the Lions knew they were going to win this match.
In the 85th minute, this attitude was affirmed after an impressive and marauding run by wingback Tommy Johnson resulted in a penalty for Jackson. It was always going to be Pizzimenti who stepped up to convert, putting the Lions ahead and effectively putting them right back into contention for a Keystone Conference playoff spot. The celebrations that followed in the stands at Donovan Catholic reflected the relief felt by everyone in the ground to see their team go ahead in this must-win game.
Just five minutes later Russo put the final nail in the coffin by bagging a goal of his own when he curled the ball brilliantly with his weak foot into the far corner of Torch FC’s net, making the score 4-2. That was his second NPSL goal in just three starts.
Pizzimenti shared his thoughts on the win.
“When we talked at halftime, we all knew that it was do or die now,” Pizzimenti said. “We have been the better team for most of our games, but we just have these lulls. So, we talked about finishing games, not letting things slip late in games. Walking up for the pen, I knew the season was on the line. We needed the three points to turn things around.”
Pizzimenti also discussed the role that Montesinos played in the match.
“We love his energy,” Pizzimenti said. “He was definitely the boost we needed in that second half. He was the difference.”
All in all, the Lions should be very proud of this performance. Yes, they gave up a couple goals that they probably should have been able to deal with. However, tonight they proved that they have the heart and grit to match a level of talent that is on par with any other team in the Keystone Conference.
They will be put to the test once again next Wednesday at home when they welcome Philadelphia Lone Star FC to the Jersey Shore. Philadelphia is also competing for one of those top four spots, meaning it will be a match that you will not want to miss.
Photos Courtesy of Jackson Lions FC