Mass United played its second National Premiere Soccer League game of the season on Sunday against Brooklyn Italians, just one day after suffering a heartbreaking defeat to Seacoast United. How did they respond? Like true champions. The Riders took whatever the extremely physical Italians team had and gave it right back, plus some, in toughing out a 2-1 victory. A beaming Head Coach Jim Antonakas said, “It is very difficult for soccer players to play two tough opponents as we did back to back and perform at such a high level. It shows this team is building great character early on in the season.”
The crowd was bigger than expected as the cold from the day before returned, accompanied by a misery-inducing rain. Undetered, the United faithful were in full voice, with some singing songs and some showing their team spirit with blue and yellow umbrellas. Their support would not go unrewarded.
Brooklyn came out strong, controlling the game in the first few minutes, but that didn’t last long as our boys were up for the challenge. The Riders midfield was especially strong, with Denivaldo DaSilva, Rafael Santos and Romeo Zeqo continuing their strong play from the day before. Something that did not go unnoticed by Coach Antonakas, “I thought (the trio) were key players in both our games over the weekend.” Team captain Ben Johnson was also a stand out for the defense in both games.
There weren’t a lot of good scoring chances in the first half as much of the play was in the midfield. Stand out Rafael Santos was especially active on both offense and defense, applying pressure without the ball and attacking vigorously with it. His hard work would eventually pay off with a goal, but not before the half and not before the visitors had themselves a one goal lead.
Brooklyn was able to take the lead in the final moments of the first half when a failed clearance by the Riders’ defense led to a goal that just squirted through Keeper Andrew Trice’s legs. After such a physical first half this goal could have been a real downer but United came out in the second half with unwavering determination, evening the score in the 57th minute, with the hardworking Rafael Santos getting his reward.
The bruising style of play continued throughout the half and even picked up some once the Riders were able to take the lead, and control of the game, in the 75th minute on a Deni DaSilva header off a beautifully placed cross. Desperation began to creep into Brooklyn’s game then, but instead of creating more scoring opportunities with it, it seemed they just became more physical, fouling even more and allowing their frustration to dominate. Brooklyn earned themselves 3 yellow cards and gave up a penalty kick after some brilliant work by Romeo Zeqo induced a foul in the box, only minutes after he bent one like Beckham and rattled the crossbar with an amazing free kick. Substitute Domenico Martignetti took the penalty but couldn’t hit the target. Moments later the final whistle was blown and the celebration was on.
Coach Antonakas couldn’t praise his boys enough, saying, “I was extremely proud of all our players and how they pulled together in putting out another great effort on the field Sunday after a painful loss in the final minute of Saturday’s home opener…I was very pleased with Sunday’s result. I believe all of our players know we can play at this level and compete in the NPSL.”