National Amateur Cup Round 1 v. Boston Olympiakos
Mass United began (and ended) its National Amateur Cup run on Saturday against two-time Cup champion Boston Olympiakos at Lynn’s Manning Field. The hard fought game ended 2-1 in favor of Olympiakos, who scored with mere minutes left in extra time after United’s Gerry Munyani had tied it at one apiece in stoppage time to force the extra period.
The game got off to late start but the delay didn’t deter the Riders one bit. Using a 4-5-1 formation United was able to control the tempo of the game early, keeping Olympiakos off balance with a physical, stifling defense and an aggressive, counter-attacking offence filled with dangerous runs down the wings. United was outright dominant at times, not allowing Olympiakos to even threaten until 15 minutes in when they rang a shot off the post and nearly took the lead against the run of play.
United continued to pressure Olympiakos and create chances but couldn’t find the right combination to take the lead. As the frustration grew for Olympiakos, so did the number of fouls. Both sides became very chippy, leading to a total of 6 cards being issued (5 yellow and 1 red) in the first half. Four of the cards went to the Riders, the most costly being a red card given to midfielder Miguel Castro in the 40th minute for insubordination after he took exception to a no-call that followed him getting punched in the nose. That incident followed several others as the frustration of Olympiakos and United’s determination made for some very hard fouling and produced more than a few complaints about the officiating from both sides.
We all know that goal-scorers get all the glory but as is usually the case, it was United’s hard working back line of Barnaba Madol, Christopher “Shorty” Sharpe, Daniel Antonio Jr and Anton DaSilva (as well as second-half substitutes James Grant and Adrian Kawuba) that made everything United did well possible. Sharpe and Antonio Jr were rock solid in the middle while Madol and DaSilva not only took care of their defensive responsibilities, but also were applying pressure on Olypiakos down the wings all day.
The second half brought a slightly less aggressive strategy from United to compensate for being down a man but it proved to be just as effective. The Riders absorbed pressure and continued to work the counter while leaning heavily on keeper Steven Liechti who was rock solid in net the entire day but especially in the second half when he was needed most. Liechti turned away several shots from point blank range including an Olympiakos penalty. That penalty ended up costing United the lead despite the keeper’s heroics however, as the rebound was put in past a prone and helpless Liechti.
While many teams would have given up at this point, down a man and a goal with 7 minutes left, United turned up the intensity to yet another level and pushed for the equalizer. The hard work paid off when a beautiful through ball from deep in the midfield sent Gerry Munyani in alone with Adrian Kawuba just behind him. Munyani charged straight towards the keeper, gave a slight fake to the left and rounded the sprawling keeper to the right then drove it home just before the Olympiakos defense arrived.
Extra time was anything but the snooze-fest it often is as both teams pushed for the lead and took chances to get it. The run of play generally favored Olympiakos with one free kick rattling the crossbar and several shots going just wide but United continued to threaten throughout. But the missed opportunities those threats resulted in came back to haunt the Riders when Olympiakos took the lead with only minutes left. Knowing that the heartbreak isn’t official until the final whistle blows, United turned up the pressure one more time but just could not turn it into a goal. The Riders final attack was a corner on the last play of the game, but that was cleared away with ease.
After the game, United’s Head Coach Jim Antonakas said, “(The game) did not go our way obviously in terms of the result we were looking for but our entire team played a great game, especially with having only 10 players for most of the game.” Concerning the questionable officiating throughout the game the coach said, “We had chances to win the game but I certainly feel the referee made some tough calls against us. Having said that though, we need to win games on the field and this game taught us a lot.”
Although the final score did not go United’s way, this was an inspired effort by the entire team, from the Head Coach to the last man on the bench. The boys walked off the field with their heads held high and nothing left in their tanks when it was over. Every single one of them should be proud of their efforts in what was truly a game for the ages.