On Saturday February 11th, Albion Pros battled the East Bay Stompers, emerging victorious with a 3-2 result courtesy of a late stunner from winger David Luquen that broke the deadlock in the 90th minute.
In the Pros’ first preseason friendly of the calendar year, head coach Ziggy Korytoski picked a team that was powerful, dynamic, dogged and ultimately, triumphant in an end to end contest that is sure to have left the hordes of Albion fans wanting more.
An early goal from the visiting East Bay Stompers shredded whatever script Albion had studied. Zanin Mahic nodded home a header from the first corner kick of the game in just the 5th minute, following an excellent save from Albion Pros’ goalkeeper Jean Antoine after Stompers’ speedster Khalid Arramdani forced his way behind the historically stingy Albion backline.
That early shock seemed to be just the wake-up call the Pros needed to jump back into the game. From the resulting kick off, new signing Cameron Rogget danced up the right wing and swung in a teasing cross that just eluded fellow new-boy Travis Nicklaw, setting the tone for what opened up into an expansive first half of soccer under the lights of Mission Bay Stadium in beautiful Pacific Beach, California.
Albion’s first goal of the game also came from a set piece as San Diego State University alumni Nicklaw pounced on a ball knocked down by Luke Staats to bundle home the equalizer, drawing the score level at 1-1 in the 19th minute.
Free flowing, attacking football at its finest was on display Saturday night, as both teams went up a gear in search of the go-ahead goal. In the 34th minute, Kuba Waligorski broke the deadlock with a header from another Albion corner, putting the Pros up 2-1 and giving his team a lead they would take into the halftime interval.
Shortly after the restart, it was Albion’s turn to concede a goal. Stompers striker Arramdani was released in behind the Albion backline again and in a one-on-one with Pros goalkeeper Antoine, managed to squeeze an effort through the Haitian netminder’s legs. The two players collided, and Antoine had to be substituted following the impact.
On came Mario Miranda to man the Albion goal for the remainder of the match.
As the game wore on, the disciple and fitness that has long been a calling card of a Korytoski team began to show through, as wave after wave of blue and white hooped jerseys bombarded the Stompers goal. It was all the Stompers could do to possess the ball, which they did to great effect by finding the feet of midfielder Eder Guzman as early and often as possible. The #10 for the Stompers played with a swagger and poise that is rarely seen at the NPSL level.
With the score level at 2-2, Albion made a raft of attacking substitutions. Most notable of the newcomers to the field was David Luquen, a tricky dribbler with a eye for goal and a phenomenal turn of pace.
It was Luquen himself who drew the foul from Guzman in the 90th minute, and Luquen who stepped up to line up a free kick which he placed perfectly inside the near post of the Stompers goal, just outside the reach of goalkeeper Jose Majano, to seal a victory for the Pros.
In the build up to the match, coach Korytoski stressed the importance of relationships on the field, particularly in regards to the way players on the field develop coordination and press the opponent, as being key to earning any sort of result. The coordinated pressing, and the tireless work of midfielders Felipe Liborio and Luis Cardona gave Albion the platform from which they launched so many forays into Stompers territory.
Coach Korytoski said after the match that while the end result was positive, the injury to goalkeeper Antoine and the lackluster defending in the opening few minutes of each half were worrying.
The Pros now have two weeks to prepare for their next match against Phoenix Rising FC of the USL, at Mission Bay High School on Saturday February 25th. More information regarding kickoff and tickets can be found at www.albionscpros.com.