By Tyler Andreas/Jackson Lions FC
After a massive 8-2 win on Wednesday night at home that kept them in Keystone Conference playoff contention, the Lions found themselves once again in a do-or-die situation when they traveled to Manhiem, Pennsylvania on Saturday evening to take on Pennsylvania Classics, the former home of U.S. Soccer and Premier League phenomenon Christian Pulisic.
The Classics came out for the match ready to implement an expansive, possession-based game plan against a Lions team that has proven it can be tactically versatile, often switching between a 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 system quite fluidly. Manager Brad Fraley is someone who is not afraid to change things up when needed, and his squad is filled with players that are disciplined enough to carry out his instructions mid-game, so they are always ready to make adjustments.
Due to Pennsylvania’s approach, the Lions were forced to sit back and really maintain their defensive shape for long periods for what seems like the first time this season. For the majority of the first half the Lions midfield consisting of David Nigro, Junior Miranda, and Leo Montesinos maintained a high level of discipline by remaining patient despite the monotonous nature of Pennsylvania’s passing game.
Pennsylvania kept the ball on the floor and looked to pry open the Lions defensive block by sweeping the ball from side to side and attempting to tease players out of position. When the Lions were able to get on the ball, they were forced to go fairly direct, which is something that we already know they are good at. However, they were not able to put anything away in the first half despite looking dangerous on the counter attack.
After forcing several saves out of Gellemaro and leaving the Lions looking more and more frustrated as the half wore on, the Classics were able to make the breakthrough in the 36th minute after a characteristically smooth spell of possession ended with a Classics midfielder driving straight at the Jackson penalty area and finishing low and hard to Gellemaro’s left from the top of the circle. Nigro and Brendan Deal had a couple of half chances following the goal, but Jackson was unable to muster any type of tangible response for the rest of the half.
The second half saw an hour-long delay due to a lightning storm that descended on Spooky Nook Sports Lancaster with driving winds and hail.
Jackson started the second half by conceding another goal to Pennsylvania rather quickly, making the score 2-0 and leaving the Lions with a lot of ground to make up. However, this is a place from which they have come back before, and they made clear their intentions to do the same once again when Walter Calderon pulled one back midway through the half.
It only took a few more minutes before substitute Tyler Howlett found himself on the end of an opportunity to bring the score back level at 2-2 with time for both teams to feel that they could still steal all three points. The 79th minute goal was an absolute banger but the celebrations could only last so long because only getting one point in this game just wasn’t going to be enough.
They needed all three, and they were dead set on getting their hands on them. In the 85th minute, their determination was rewarded when an own goal was scored by the Classics. This made the score 3-2 in the Lions’ favor, giving them a lead to hold on to for the dying minutes and four minutes of stoppage time.
Assistant coach Sal de Simone shared his thoughts on his team’s comeback performance.
“We overcame all kinds of adversity tonight with the weather break and going down two-nil,” de Simone said. “We didn’t panic. We crawled back into it and grabbed the three points, baby.”
In order for Jackson to qualify, West Chester needs to lose their remaining two matches, and they also must win at home to Hershey FC next Wednesday night at 7:30 pm.
Photo Credit: Jackson Lions FC