After three straight 1-0 losses, Atlantic City FC returned to the win column on Wednesday night on the strength of a three-goal first half and held on to beat Electric City Shock 3-1 at Stockton University in Pomona, New Jersey.
The Aces scored their first goal since their season opener just 86 seconds into the match on a 10-pass sequence capped off by a lovely ball floated in from the left wing by Cam Vickers to Noah Blodget, who chested the ball down and finished with his left foot.
“It’s nice to get any goal, but when you need a goal, certainly when it comes early, it’s fantastic,” said Atlantic City FC head coach Kristian O’Leary.
After the goal, Atlantic City FC slowed down the pace a bit and continued to move the ball with relative ease against the younger and less experienced Shock, leaving the visitors without much time on the ball and very few chances going the other way. The Shock’s inexperience showed with a number of fouls given away in dangerous spots, including a free kick just outside the D in the 31st minute taken by Sidney Rivera, which struck the arm of a Shock player. Rivera, a former Puerto Rico FC and Orlando City striker, converted from the spot to make it 2-0.
In control of the game, Atlantic City continued to have the bulk of the possession and earn fouls and set pieces in the final third but the Shock were able to finally get something going on the other end in the 39th minute on a free kick whipped in from Jarrod Smalley that was headed out for a corner by an Atlantic City’s Sean MacLeod. Andrew Lupinacci nearly connected with the ball on the back post before it went out, but did connect on the ensuing corner from Smalley with a header toward goal while falling backwards. While Lupinacci’s header wasn’t strong enough to trouble the keeper, Palle Finn Jespersen got to the second ball with a header that cut the deficit in half.
“I think we recovered well to find a goal and start to compete at 2-1,” Shock head coach Andrew Loughnane said. “Similar to previous results, we have a very young squad. We’re primarily Division 2 and Division 3-based players so our margin of error is much smaller than some of the teams we played against. Those guys were certainly well drilled and they were quality moving off the ball.”
Whatever momentum the goal gave the visitors, Atlantic City grabbed it right back four minutes later when Seiji Rose stepped up from the back line to make a bursting run forward up the middle of the field and played Mario Mastrangelo into the box with a pass for a one-v-one chance that Shock goalkeeper Blake Hammert was able to get a leg on to deflect out. The deflection, however, went right to Rivera who put the ball onto his left foot and hit it into the left corner of the net as Hammert was still back pedaling toward the goal.
Down two goals heading into the second half, Loughnane made a tactical change to a 5-3-2 wingback setup in hopes of keeping Atlantic City from adding to their lead while trying to produce opportunities on the counter. The change, along with some heads up goalkeeping from Hammert, worked to hold a clean sheet for the final 45 minutes but the Shock offense was unable to produce any more goals, despite creating a couple promising chances. Unsurprisingly, it was Jespersen and Smalley connecting to create an opportunity in front of goal in the 58th minute. On the play, Smalley sent in a ball from near the right sideline and Jespersen tapped the ball up to himself for a volley inside the six but his shot went high over the bar.
“I thought overall, we could have been better,” said the Shock keeper Hammert, who was making his first start of the season. “First half we kind of started off slow and gave up a quick one and the PK, but I thought we battled well, especially the second half. We had our chances but we just didn’t capitalize.”
The Shock, a playoff team last season, fell to 0-3-1 with the loss while Atlantic City improved to 2-3-0 and are tied with three other teams on six points behind Keystone Conference leaders West Chester United (12 points) and FC Motown (nine points).
“The attitude was good, they did exactly what I asked them to.,” O’Leary said of the win. “Now they’re starting to understand it and it looks good. The pitch looked great, it was a great night.”
Rivera, the Aces captain and leading goal scorer with three on the season, was happy to get a couple goals after missing most of the last two matches with a knock and pleased with the overall effort from the group.
“The game was good for us,” he said. “We needed a win after a good start and a couple games where we learned a lot. It’s a good step forward.”
Contributor: Matt Ralph/NPSL.com
Photo Credit: Matt Ralph/NPSL.com