By Tyler Andreas/Jackson Lions FC
In a highly anticipated match on Wednesday, June 21st, Jackson Lions FC faced off against the Philadelphia Union Development Squad at Donovan Catholic in Toms River, New Jersey. The Lions entered the game in third place, with a game in hand on their closest competitors, FC Motown and Atlantic City FC, which meant that a win would propel them to second place, firmly placing their destiny in their own hands.
On the other hand, the Philadelphia Union Development Squad sat just three points behind Jackson in fourth place, making this clash of vital importance in the Lions’ pursuit of a postseason spot. The Union side was looking to bounce back after a recent defeat to Motown. The rainy conditions on the night provided a slick surface, setting the stage for a fast-paced encounter.
Confidence was high among the home side’s faithful with Lions legend Sal de Simone stating, “We are going into this game with momentum, and they are coming off of a big loss. I think we win 4-nil.”
The match kicked off with an immediate chance for Jackson as Dan Russo narrowly missed the target seconds into the game. However, Philadelphia swiftly retaliated and created an opportunity of their own, setting the tone for an intense battle. It was the Lions who struck first, though, with Miguel Diaz capitalizing on a counterattack just three minutes into the game. This early goal clearly deflated the Union Development Squad.
In the opening ten minutes, Jackson repeatedly exploited the left flank through long diagonal balls, resulting in several chances for Russo. He even came close to scoring in the 13th minute with a tantalizing effort.
The Lions’ dominance was evident as they quickly extended their lead to 2-0 and 3-0 in less than two minutes in the 24th and 25th minutes. Tommy Johnson found the back of the net, assisted by Jules Anderson. This was followed by Dave Nigro, assisted by Russo – his second assist of the night. For the remainder of the half Philadelphia struggled to break free from their own half or even connect more than a few passes due to the relentless pressure imposed by the Lions.
The score remained 3-0 heading into halftime.
The second half commenced with a substitution for the Lions as Jack Krongold replaced the apparently injured Dave Nigro, who received treatment on the sidelines for an ankle issue. Russo shifted to the number nine position to accommodate Krongold, who is a more natural winger.
Philadelphia Union DS began the second half with renewed energy, launching an attack in the 50th minute that saw a shot from the left winger narrowly missing the goal defended by Ponce De Leon. The Lions displayed great determination in repelling the subsequent flurry of attacks from Philadelphia over the next 10 minutes. Ponce De Leon made several crucial saves during this period. Lions right fullback Olu Ogunwale also received a caution in this period of the game, and Kenny Hot picked up his own in the first half.
Once the Lions weathered the storm, they resumed their attacking prowess, crafting several beautiful passages of one-touch play involving Russo, Hot, Diaz, and Krongold. However, they were not able to find the back of the net a fourth time. In the 70th minute, Junior Miranda’s goal was disallowed due to an offside decision after a wonderful cross from Russo.
Philly was able to pull one goal back in the 88th minute.
Despite their opponent’s efforts in the second half, the Lions maintained their composure and sealed a commanding victory against the Philadelphia Union DS. The final score stood at 3-1 in favor of the Lions, consolidating their position in the race for postseason qualification. The team’s early goals, dominant performance, and resolute defense proved too much for Philadelphia to handle, leaving them unable to mount a comeback.
With this crucial win, Jackson Lions FC propelled themselves into second place, firmly in control of their destiny as they continue their quest for a playoff spot, signaling their determination to compete at the highest levels of the NPSL.
The next challenge for Jackson comes when they travel to Montclair on Saturday, June 24th to take on conference leaders FC Motown in what should be an explosive matchup.
Photo Credit: Tyler Andreas/Jackson Lions FC