Mass United returned home to face the Morris County Colonials on Saturday hoping to get back to winning ways and it looked like they would be doing just that after taking a 2-0 lead into halftime. Morris County had other ideas however and at the end it was United hanging on for a 2-all draw and a single point.
An enthusiastic crowd at Manning Field greeted the Riders on yet another damp day in Lynn, with the kids from Lynn Youth Soccer once again showing up in force. The game started with Morris County the aggressor, seeming to be pushing for an early lead, perhaps in hopes of overcoming the fact that they had only 11 players with them. For the first 15 minutes it looked like their plan might work, as they were first to loose balls and made United pay, if not with goals, for every miscommunication and sloppy pass. And there were many of them.
A bright spot for the Riders during this time was the play of left midfielder Jessey Fernandez, whose aggressiveness on the wing caused problems for Morris County throughout the first half. This finally paid off for United in the 19th minute when a Lucas Miranda pass sent Fernandez sprinting down the left side. Fernandez’ cross was perfect for Rodrigo Marion who put it past Morris County keeper David Sauerhoff to give the Riders a 1-0 lead. Crosses from the offensive left seemed to be something the Colonials had no answer for as the second United goal came only minutes later from another cross, this one put home by Romeo Zeqo.
At this point I truly believed we were watching our boys taking control of the game and earning 3 invaluable points in the standings. But despite taking a 2-goal lead, United still couldn’t settle down entirely. Both teams pushed but the rest of the first half just kind of petered out.
While those of us in the booth were expecting the Riders to come out strong in the second half, it was Morris County that carried play. The Colonials pressed and harassed United early and often, controlling possession and the game until almost 15 minutes in when our boys finally started to regain some control, including their first scoring chance in the second half. While that one didn’t work out, the second opportunity definitely should have.
With Morris County’s keeper trapped half way to the midfield stripe and sprinting back, United’s Justin Fernandez barreled down the right side alone with the ball and a wide open net. Instead of sending the ball towards the net Fernandez kept it long enough for not only the keeper to get back, but much of the Colonials defense as well making this an opportunity lost. And boy, did we pay for it.
A mere one minute later, Morris County’s Steven Jakubowski took a beautiful through ball and blasted it past Untied keeper Steven Liechti, who had replaced starter Andrew Trice at halftime. The goal seemed to spark the Colonials as they pushed for the equalizer, barely missing on a shot that beat the keeper but rolled just wide. United’s defensive stalwart Ben Johnson helped calm things down some, refusing to allow Morris County access to the front of the net and admonishing his teammates to pick up the pace. Which they did until the 79th minute when a ball sent into the box was deflected beautifully by Morris County’s Steven Jakubowski into the net for his second of the day.
Both teams had chances to take the lead in the final 10 minutes, including a ball just sitting in the United six-yard box and an almost breakaway for Morris County and a Romeo Zeqo shot that sailed over the bar in the final moments for the Riders. Despite the fact that United had their own personnel issues, as a few players were unavailable, including a couple starters, this can only be counted as a disappointing result.
The Riders are sitting at the top of the table with an uneasy one point lead but the most important factor for them may be the next column; the one for Games Played. Both teams just behind United in the standings have games in hand, 2 for New Hampshire rivals Seacoast United and a whopping 4 games for the New York Red Bulls. The coming weeks will show if the Riders are not only up to the task, but if they truly are United.