On the first truly hot day of the year, Mass United overcame a sluggish first half to win its second consecutive National Premiere Soccer League game on Saturday, a 2-0 shutout of New York Athletic Club. The Riders came out in the second half rejuvenated and took control, peppering NYAC keeper Matt Sangeloty with multiple shots time and again. Such flurries produced both goals, each starting with tremendous individual efforts by goal-scorers Romeo Zeqo and Rafael Santos, respectively.
Despite the fact that there were scoring chances for both sides, it was obvious from the beginning that our boys were missing something. The high intensity, high-pressure game that had been our calling card in the first two games just wasn’t there. The defense was still solid however, keeping NYAC at bay as they had their own struggles getting it together. One of the few bright spots for United offensively was the play of left winger John Bavota, who was constantly pushing forward and trying to create.
NYAC was strong on the ball and enjoyed the majority of possession early on, keeping the Riders in their own end for the most part. They were aided in this by United’s send it long and hope policy as long ball after long ball was sent from the Riders’ back line and midfield in the hopes of breaking Denivaldo DaSilva in alone on the keeper. While this did produce opportunities, it didn’t produce very many actual scoring chances as the NYAC defense was solid in tracking back and returning the pressure squarely onto United.
United’s keeper, Adam Khaw, shined once again on the other end, making several first half saves and ripping crosses out of the sky to keep the Riders in the game and allowing them time to get their act together. Good thing too, as it wasn’t until the second half, and a good talking to from Head Coach Jim Antonakas at halftime, that United began to play as the aggressive, tenacious unit we’ve come to love. “After a rather slow start in the first half I thought we responded well in the second half following our halftime discussion. We got a great effort from everyone who stepped on the field,” said the obviously happy head coach after the game.
The Riders began the second half with a huddle and pre kickoff chant of “1-2-3 UNITED!” and finally began to play that way. It was as if a team of imposters had been out there in the first half and the real team had been rescued by a soccer superhero. (I’m picturing General Manager Jonathan Beck in what he was wearing on game day only with a cape. This is funny, trust me.) With the pressure suddenly on them, New York Athletic Club began to wilt.
Though dominating both possession and control, it wasn’t until the 57th minute that this pressure and improved play led to a goal. Once again it was Romeo Zeqo that put United on top after a deflection off NYAC’s Sangeloty left the ball at his feet. Zeqo took a few deft touches to free himself and buried it in the back of the net, past a scrambling NYAC defense. The goal whipped the crowd into a frenzy and tied Zeqo with Deni DaSilva for the team lead in goals but they were soon joined at the top of the list by another offensive stand out, Rafael Santos.
Twelve minutes later it was Santos who was in front of the net with the NYAC defense scrambling and he took full advantage. In a goal very similar to Zeqo’s, Santos took control of a loose ball in the 6-yard box and wrigled his way free to put it past the keeper and give the Riders the breathing room they so deserved. NYAC became desperate at this point, regaining some measure of control as they pushed to make it a game, but United’s defense, anchored by team captain Ben Johnson, was more than equal to the task and the final whistle was mere formality.