By Tyler Andreas/Jackson Lions FC
On Saturday, July 1st, Jackson Lions FC took to the field at Donovan Catholic for a Keystone East Conference match against local rivals FC Monmouth. With the Fourth of July Weekend celebrations about to begin, the Lions were determined to kick off the festivities with an impressive display of soccer. This match held crucial implications for the home side as they aimed to secure a playoff position by winning their final two games, including this one against FC Monmouth.
FC Monmouth, who the Lions defeated by a score of 1-0 away at Count Basie Park earlier in the season, offered the Lions squad a chance to get back on track after a crushing last-minute defeat to FC Motown last weekend.
Assistant coach Connor Hansen acknowledged the team’s situation in simple terms.
“We have to treat it like right now it is the playoffs,” Hansen said. “We don’t want to rely on other results.”
Jackson started the game on the front foot, displaying their attacking intent from the early stages. In just the second minute, they carved out a fantastic chance with Dan Russo, thanks to some brilliant hold-up play by newcomer Raphael Araujo. It took just two minutes more to break the deadlock as Araujo himself found the back of the net from point-blank range following a deflected shot, giving the Lions an early lead.
With the advantage in their favor, the Lions began to put together some impressive attacking sequences, showcasing their fluid passing and understanding of each other’s movements all across the pitch and, throughout the first half, Araujo was at the heart of everything for the Lions. His ability to link up play, maintain possession, chase down loose balls, and create chances breathed life into the team.
Their comfortable play put FC Monmouth on the back foot, forcing them to resort to direct play, which yielded little success in terms of possession. However, they managed a half-chance in the 15th minute with Rafael Ponce De Leon relieved to see the shot narrowly miss his post. Later in the 23rd minute, he was called into action again, making an important save from a free kick positioned approximately 20 yards away from goal.
In the 29th minute, Kevin Kappock, the captain for the day, played a significant role in extending the Lions’ lead to 2-0 after his cross took a deflection and found its way into the back of the net.
The Lions continued to apply pressure high up the pitch after the second goal, creating further opportunities to extend their lead. However, they were unable to find the back of the net again before the end of the first half. Nonetheless, their performance in the opening 45 minutes displayed their determination and quality.
As they headed into the second half, the home side looked keen to secure the three points by pressing for a third goal. Left back Tommy Johnson wasted no time in testing FC Monmouth goalkeeper Dawid Mroz as he shifted an early chance onto his right foot and forced an impressive save in the 47th minute.
Despite this early threat from the Lions attack, Monmouth had grown into the game compared to the first half and began causing some nervous moments for the Lions’ defense with several of their own swift attacking moves. In the 63rd minute, a counter initiated by FC Monmouth substitute Rob Saunders resulted in a powerful shot from close range that was brilliantly saved by Ponce De Leon.
Around the 65th minute mark, Jackson Lions FC found their rhythm again and began creating chances of their own once again, orchestrating two promising opportunities in quick succession, courtesy of some clever switches of play from Kappock and Miguel Diaz.
In the 73rd minute, Jackson made their first substitution of the match with Matt Thorsheim replacing Arajuo up front. The change injected fresh energy into the Lions’ attack, keeping FC Monmouth on their toes. In the 79th minute, Russo unleashed a powerful right-footed shot from close range after Diaz capitalized on an errant pass by the FC Monmouth keeper. However, Mroz was up to the challenge once again, making a crucial save to deny Russo.
As the match entered its final 10 minutes, the intensity dwindled, and there were no major dramatic moments. All in all, FC Monmouth’s improved performance in the second half made for a more balanced contest, but Jackson demonstrated their quality and game management with a professional performance on both sides of the ball. With this comprehensive 2-0 win, the Lions take one more step towards securing playoff contention.
The Lions now eagerly await the final match of the regular season, away to Atlantic City FC on Saturday, July 8th.
Photo Credit: Tyler Andreas/Jackson Lions FC