Both teams entered Saturday night’s game at Mayor Polisena Stadium knowing the stakes. The winner was going to the postseason; the loser was going home. In the end, the Rhode Island Reds’ home field advantage wasn’t enough for them to overcome Elm City’s continual offensive charge, as Rhode Island fell to the Express, 6-4, in an exciting and relentless offensive free-for-all.
Despite the early chances by the Reds, Elm City made the best of their first opportunity, when a 20th minute corner kick landed at the feet of Graciano Brito, who easily one-touched it past keeper Tony Billeri.
Rhode Island answered shortly after with a creative sequence in the 33rd minute, when a free kick by Nani Cardoso was flicked by Stavros Zarokostas to Fabrice Dogbey, who collected it and shot it past Express goalie Oscar David Acosta-Mendez, making it 1-1.
Elm City regained the lead before the end of the first half when the Reds failed to clear a throw deep in their end. The Reds defense was guilty of ball-watching, as a wide-open Robert Poirier received a centering pass and blasted a shot past Billeri. Elm City took the 2-1 advantage into the half.
The Express started the second half by taking advantage of a Reds squad that seemingly took an extended halftime. Shaquille Saunchez scored his fourth goal of the season with a 50th minute goal that was highlighted by the Reds’ defensive miscues that led up to the goal.
The Express increased their advantage in the 68th minute after some extended chippy play culminated with a foul by Reds defender Andrew Kalombo in the area. Tyler Carlos converted the penalty kick for his fourth goal of the season, giving Elm City an insurmountable 4-1 lead.
Reds’ coach Mario Periera, with few options to extend their season, opted to go with three defenders and a full offensive press. As such, the Reds managed three goals in the last 20 minutes, but it would be too little, too late, as the Express answered with two of their own, keeping the game firmly out of reach.
In the 73rd minute, Austin Lind headed a creative flick by Toby Howell past the reach of Acosta-Mendez, making it 4-2 for Elm City.
In the 85th minute, despite Billeri’s intrepid attempt to sacrifice his body after a Reds defensive lapse, a goal by Jorge Zubillaga put the Express up 5-2. This was followed by a cracking 87th minute shot by Miguel Carneiro for his fourth goal of the season, putting an exclamation point on a superb offensive night for Elm City, making the score 6-2, and essentially putting an end to the Reds’ season.
Rhode Island managed two consolation goals. At the 88th minute, a tireless Zarokostas was first to a leading pass into space and scored his third goal of the season by besting Elm City’s Mendez in a one-on-one opportunity. The Reds final goal came during the extra time when Toby Howell blasted a shot past the outstretched arms of Acosta-Mendez, making the final score 6-4 in favor of Elm City.
Contributor: Rhode Island Reds FC
Photo Credit: Hayden B. James