San Diego is the United States capital of craft beer microbreweries. However, you could sense that the professional soccer culture was brewing on a beautiful San Diego Saturday afternoon. Over 1,800 fans came to Mission Bay Stadium to become part of the local San Diego Derby with flags waving, drums booming, and banners flying. The atmosphere for the budding rivalry was palpably tense.
The appropriately named Craft Beer Cup started like a sparring match with both teams finding their range. Albion Pros had the majority of possession and found a few half openings through the attacking central trident of Matt Clare, Tre Hayes, and especially attacking midfielder Matt Veltri. However, they were almost sucker-punched by NC Battalion’s Sergio Valle Ortiz through a free kick that deflected off the crossbar. Nothing came from it and Ray Reza responded with blasting a knuckling shot that Stroud could only parry back into the box.
Albion Pros then weathered a few half chances from NCB with Esteban Reyes coming closest from a volley from a corner that fired wide and made the visiting fans cheer mistakenly. From then on, Albion Pros had wave after wave of attack on Battalion’s goal. Clare came closest in the first half from an incisive through ball that goalkeeper James Stroud blocked with a fortunate left foot. It ended 0-0 at the half despite both teams having chances to break the deadlock.
The second half started like a dream for Albion Pros. NC Battalion’s star central midfielder Nelson Pizarro was sent off literally seconds into the second half for a late challenge on a contested ball in the midfield. Albion quickly looked to press their advantage. Tre Hayes, David Luquen, and substitute Oscar Ortega had three clear-cut chances in one play, but the post was NCB GK Stroud’s best friend. Minutes later, Clare played in Luquen, who easily got ball past Stroud, but it cannoned off the crossbar. Then in the 77th minute the Albion Pros captain was shown his marching orders for two yellow cards in the space of two minutes. The last 12 minutes would be played ten vs ten. Neither team could find an opening despite both teams having set piece chances to score. Stroud ended the match with 12 saves and Man of the Match honors for keeping NPSL Southwest Conference’s only undefeated team off the score sheet at home.
Albion Pros return to action June 4th versus Deportivo Coras USA at Mission Bay Stadium at 7 pm. NC Battalion return to action May 28th at Corinthians USA also at 7 pm.