An incredible crowd turned out for Mass United’s debut in the National Premiere Soccer League on Saturday, braving the cold and clouds to cheer on the Riders as they welcomed Seacoast United and opened a new era of professional soccer at the newly reconstructed Manning Field in Lynn, MA. The community welcomed the Riders with open arms as Lynn Youth Soccer was out in force and a big part of the atmosphere, coming out with the teams at the start of the game for the National Anthem, sung by Beth Sullivan. Owner and Head Coach Jim Antonakas said, “It was great to have a large crowd and all the kids involved, Lynn Youth Soccer did a tremendous job.”
The only downer on the day was a big one, with our boys suffering a heartbreaking 3-2 loss, despite dominating play for the majority of the game and going ahead 2-0 in the 73rd minute in what was easily one of the most exciting games I’ve attended. Seacoast United’s Paul Latif scored the game-winner on what was essentially the last play of the game after an excellent build-up to break through an exhausted Riders defense. “It’s a disappointing loss, obviously,” said Coach Antonakas. “We missed several chances to put it away, but I think that’s part of being a young team. Our fitness and chemistry need to improve. We played an outstanding game for 70 minutes.”
Almost right from the start, it was Mass United taking the game to Seacoast. I say almost because Seacoast’s best chance until the second half came just after kick-off as Christopher Tsonis tapped the ball ahead to himself past RB Anton DaSilva get a shot off that with a better touch may have been trouble for Keeper Adam Khaw. From that moment forward the first half belonged to Mass United. The Riders dominated possession and won the vast majority of 50/50 balls, constantly pushing Seacoast back and pinning them into their own end. This dominance bore fruit in the 13th minute when a miscommunication between Seacoast’s defense and their keeper, Jonathan Dawson, led to a corner. Taken beautifully by Anton DaSilva, it was headed home by an unmarked Romeo Zeqo, whose perfectly timed run had him, appropriately enough, in the perfect spot to drive in the header.
The Riders’ iron grip on the game started to slip some towards the end of the first half but thanks to Seacoast just not being able to gel they weren’t seriously threatened until after they took a 2 goal lead in the 73rd minute. Midfielder Deni DaSilva, who, along with Rafael Santos, had been dominating the entire game, took a perfect long through ball and blasted it on the run past Dawson and into the top of the net. The crowd roared with Rider pride and we in booth went nuts along with them. Just moments before the goal the sun had finally made an appearance which, taken with the goal, seemed to foretell the culmination of our dominance to a 2-0 win and a roaring start to the league schedule. Unfortunately the clouds seemed to take United’s legs with them as Seacoast finally got itself together and began to get their own iron grip on play. But not before we had 3 excellent chances to take a 3-0 lead.
Deni DaSilva almost capped his tremendous game with a second goal but Keeper Jonathan Dawson spared no effort and barely beat DaSilva to the ball, snatching it off his foot. This was followed by two opportunities by Christopher Bedi that just didn’t find their way past Dawson. This is when things started to really go Seacoast’s way. Forward Colin Smith was in the right place at the right time when the ball dropped to his feet off a save by Adam Khaw. It was a simple pass into the net and with it, a whole new ball game. From that point on, a suddenly rejuvenated and lively Seacoast United was the one dominating. Despite their best effort, even clearing one ball out of the stadium and across the street, the Riders just couldn’t hang on to the lead. The tying goal came from Sean Bakhtiari in the 86th minute.
The Riders had a couple chances to regain the lead but Zeqo’s try for a second goal was saved by Dawson and a shot after a steal by a visibly exhausted Deni DaSilva was just wide. Big Ben Johnson saved the day one more time with a sliding tackle on a Seacoast break in the final moments but stoppage time brought more Seacoast pressure and in the final seconds of the game, the winning goal. Seacoast put together 4 or 5 beautiful short passes ending with a strike by Paul Latif driven past Khaw. The final whistle came immediately after the restart and with it Seacoast’s celebration and our boys wondering what just happened.