Under the lights on a beautiful, warm Connecticut evening, the Elm City Express took on the New York Athletic Club in a high-stakes conference matchup. With both clubs sitting at 3-3-2, the game was a critical step towards making the NPSL playoffs.
Coming off a convincing victory from the previous night against Seacoast United, the Express looked to end the weekend with six points in hand. Despite Saturday night’s summer heat, the game started off fast-paced, with the ball moving quickly from side to side and players flying into tackles. The Express managed to grab control of the game after a few minutes, and NYAC struggled to build an attack. The home side’s pressure paid off in the ninth minute when Express striker Anthony Asante gave his side the lead. After receiving a long ball to the left flank, Asante deftly headed the ball over the last defender before entering the box and chipping the goalkeeper to open up the scoring.
With strong fan support and the lead, the Express sought to capitalize on their momentum and pushed on for a second goal. The home side came close on several occasions, but the final pass always seemed to skip past the target. Only in the 26th minute did the Express double the lead through another Asante strike. After a driven cross from the left flank and an acrobatic save by the New York goalkeeper, Asante pounced on a loose ball in the six yard box and bashed it into the top of the net, securing his second brace of the weekend after his two goals in Friday night’s game against the Seacoast Mariners.
With a comfortable advantage and control of the game, everything seemed to be going right for the Express. However, the New York Athletic Club fought valiantly to grapple back control of the game and managed to keep to cut the lead in half only three minutes later. After a driven shot from the left flank and a brilliant save by Express goalkeeper Tom Wallenstein, the Express defense was unable to clear the ball. New York Athletic Club’s Calum James pounced on the loose ball and fired a vicious volley into the left of the net, beating Wallenstein and bringing the score to 2-1. NYAC pressured the Express’s defense for the remainder of the half, desperate to head into halftime with a tied score. The visitors kept the ball and went forwards several times, bringing the Express defense under pressure. However, they could not convert and Elm City kept the lead heading into halftime.
The Express ended the half knowing they had to change something. They felt their opponents coming closer to a game-tying goal, and knew the importance of winning this game for their playoff hopes.
“We high pressed them in the second half in order to win the ball in high parts of the field,” said Elm City coach Luis Figueiredo on the second-half adjustment.
Figueiredo’s tactical changes showed from the start of the second half, as the Express started strong, dominating possession and pinning the visitors back in their half. The Express knew that a third goal would ease their nerves and likely secure a victory. They found their dagger in the 57th minute; after picking up a cross from Shaquille Saunchez, Robert Poirier fired a first-time finish into the top right corner, beating the keeper before rushing to celebrate with his teammates.
The Express, having padded their lead, gained back their confidence and started playing a captivating game, sending inciteful passes left and right and ensuring that their visitors saw none of the ball. The home side’s pressure paid off in the 65th minute with a beautiful goal, as Tyler Carlos curled a venomous shot into the top corner from outside the box, making the score 4-1 Elm City.
The Express, having virtually sealed the victory, were still not satisfied. They pressed on, still eager to starve their opponents of the ball. In the 83rd minute, Ibrahima Keita capped off an impressive center midfield performance with a much-deserved goal, picking the ball up around the halfway line and beating three defenders before finishing past the keeper.
With a convincing 5-1 victory, Elm City picked up three valuable points in their quest for the postseason. They move to 4-3-2, while the New York Athletic Club drops to 3-4-2. Elm City plays their next match on the road against Rhode Island Reds FC, and needs a win and some help to qualify for the 2018 NPSL playoffs.
Contributor: Jack Dove and Bruno Moscarini/Elm City Express
Photo Credit: Elm City Express