By Tyler Andreas/Jackson Lions FC
The Jackson Lions kicked off their 2023 NPSL campaign on May 13th when they traveled to YSC Sports, the home of the Philadelphia Union’s Development Squad, in Wayne, PA for what turned out to be quite an exciting Saturday evening matchup.
The team comes into the season looking to improve on a string of lukewarm performances last summer that left them just slightly missing out on playoff contention while longtime rivals FC Motown went on to win the national championship.
After having taken the last few months to strengthen the squad by signing a group of exciting young players including the likes of Kenny Hot, Kajus Matazinskas, Jack Krongold, Olu Ongunwale, Aidan Tisoney, Mattia Assante, Jared Brown and others, head coach Brad Fraley was optimistic about his team’s chances against this Union team.
“The younger guys are going to bring a lot of energy, and hopefully that rubs off on some of the veterans,” Fraley said. “Kenny Hot in particular should be a big addition to the middle of the park for us.”
Fraley handed out a grand total of 10 NPSL debuts on the night, a number that reflects the coaching staff’s efforts to bolster the squad over the course of the offseason.
This wasn’t the first time these squads met up. They actually linked up for a friendly back in November, a proper thrilling match that ended 5-3 in favor of the Union.
“This game is different,” Fraley added. “They have a young group of guys that are looking to get experience against good players. It should be a really good matchup.”
The Union came out fast and pressed high early, clearly looking to use their energy and youth to catch the Lions off guard and nip an early goal, which they came close to doing. However, a strong spine made up of experienced Lions veterans including Dave Nigro, Junior Miranda, Brandon Golden, and Joey Zalinsky allowed the squad to weather the early storm offered up by their opponents.
Once settled in, the Lions began finding much success down the right flank through the creativity and technical ability of Miguel Diaz, who several times blew past his mark to whip in dangerous crosses before finally finding the left foot of Nigro. The former NY Cosmos man took his chance with elite composure as he stroked the volleyed effort into the bottom left corner of the net past the outstretched arms of the Union goalkeeper.
The Lions led 1-0 after only twelve minutes.
Philadelphia did go on to carve out several dangerous chances as the half continued but the Lions defense stayed sound across the back. A smart save in the 32nd minute from Calum Erlenborn kept the Lions ahead after Junior Miranda gave up a free kick just outside the Lions area. This was followed by another big save just three minutes later as a Union player broke through, forcing the Lions keeper to come off his line and save low to his left. These late stops ensured the Lions went into the second half with their 1-0 lead intact.
It did not take long for the Lions to continue pulling away as Nigro bagged his brace seemingly only seconds after the start of the second half. After taking a corner, Hot found the ball deflected right back into his path, which he took advantage of to deliver an inch perfect cross onto the chest of the Lions number ten. Nigro brought the ball down, faked the shot with his left, pulled it on to his right, and passed the ball into the net left wide open by the wrong-footed Union keeper.
However, the Lions 2-0 lead was cut in half 24 minutes later as the Union’s center forward slotted home from close range through the legs of Erlenborn.
Following this the Lions created chance after chance as Philadelphia looked to get back into the game, leaving them exposed at the back. This came off the back of several substitutions made by Fraley which included Jacob Rubinstein and Tommy Johnson, who combined in the 79th minute to make the score 3-1 after Rubinstein finished off a brilliant end-to-end run by Johnson.
The game would go on to end 3-1 in favor of the Lions.
Jackson plays their home opener next Saturday, May 20th, when they welcome defending national champions FC Motown to Donovan Catholic in Toms River, NJ.
Photos Provided by Jackson Lions FC