Rafters defeat San Antonio for first conference win

Shreveport Rafters vs. Corinthians of San Antonio 05/07/16

Two time division runner up in the South Central Conference of the NPSL , a manager who has coached the men’s Mexican national team, and a team whose roster boast numerous seasoned players that have played at the highest level of pro leagues. This was the task set before the Shreveport Rafters as they hosted the Corinthians of San Antonio Saturday night in their first conference game.

Coach Greg sent his men out in their customary 4-1-3-2 formation but this time with a different purpose as the three attacking mids funneled the attack down the middle rather than the wide approach in the previous match. This was aided by the wing play of fullbacks Andre Anasi(right) and Munir Poca(left) who were solid in defense yet have a nose for creativity when going forward.

Execution of the pressure from forwards Nicky Hammond(left) Steven Bush(right) would have to be calculated when helping defending attack building from the opposition out wide- while also conserving energy to stay high and make runs.

Pressure from attacking midfielders was provided by Matt Barcelona and Aaron Bergman on either flank- supplemented by Mark Hammond to get strength in numbers when closing down the ball.

Inside the first 5 minutes each team was clearly sizing up the opponent- giving little room for many touches and settling air balls. Tough tackling by defensive midfielder M.Hammond set the tone for the Rafter’s point of defense.

In the 10th minute, left back Poca instinctively intercepted a pass at mid field and with a dazzling three touch 30 yard run, slotted a pass to N. Hammond just behind the defender. Needing to be quick about his decision, Hammond, with the outside of his left foot struck the ball that forced the keeper to make a good save to his left for the first quality opportunity for the Rafters.

Every Rafter player works equally hard on attack and defense, meaning forwards have no patience for sitting back and watching the opposing team’s defenders take time on the ball. On many occasions you could find Stephen Bush in a dead sprint to a defender who had taken too many touches or had just received a quick goal kick.

This pressure was not for naught as his compatriot N. Hammond immediately closed down the right back of the Corinthians that induced a pass back that was noticed by everyone but the opposing goal keeper. In that instant as Hammond Sprinted towards the keeper, Bush closed down the left side outlet pass that is usually available. With no quick pass to distribute, the ball rolled passed the keeper for an own goal in the 16th minute.

You can call it an own goal but I would credit it to the no nonsense pressure from both forwards as they gave the opposing defense no time to think.

Rafters Lead 1-0

With the ball being pinged around mid field and each team trying to get a foothold on possession- one could notice the high stance being taken by the Corinthians keeper roughly about 30 yards from goal; almost Manuel Neuer’esque, if you will . I’m sure strikers alike relish in the opportunity of a keeper willing to bait players in taking a hasty shot- confident in their abilities to make an easy save.

This underestimation would not go unpunished

In the 24th minute Stephen Bush posted up on the back of the last defender, and with quick wits about him Kyle Symczak chipped a dangerous ball over the top of the defense and a keeper 8 yards off his line. While it seemed an easy ball to take in- the keeper mistimed his jump as the ball bounced over his finger tips which allowed Bush to continue his run to pounce on the ball and with a cool, calm, and collected header into an open net the Rafters increased their Lead to 2-0.

Frustration was clearly setting in on the away squad as a series of tacky fouls led to needless stops of play-most notably by a player blocking a throw-in that was awarded to the Rafters. The new kids on the block were in the head of the vets of San Antonio.

Despite the Corinthian’s grabbing more possession the Rafters led 2-0 going in to half time.

Shortly after halftime the Corinthians had a series of substitutions.

With a 2 goal lead, the Rafters seemed comfortable waiting for opportunities from counter attacks as the Corinthians of San Antonio enjoyed much of the possession. It was a nail bitter for Rafters fans as the team stayed disciplined in defending and keeping their shape.

At this point I’m willing to spoil the rest of the game notes to highlight a superb performance put on by Rafters keeper Lance Quini that led the Rafters to a win. In one half, the Corinthians had 13 shots. 13 quality shots. But the shot quantity doesn’t depict the story of the inviting through balls and crosses snuffed out by the Rafters number 1.

However, all shots would not be saved as Corinthians substitute, Abdi Mahdi settled a pass from midfield which Yuri Ribiero found for a goal in a crowded box. The pressure continued to mount as Rafters focused on protecting their one goal lead.

After the goal, Keeper Quini’s hands were strong and precise as he was made to punch out and catch many balls crossed in by the Corinthians. Lance was the conductor of the defense as well as the crowd as the fans’ breaths were collectively held and released as he produced a symphony of clearances and catches.

The Corinthians narrowed their attack while staying high; trusting their defense to deal with the Rafters counters.

While the chances by Corinthians were many, the Rafters had quality chances on two corner kicks. Center half Sean French headed a ball with conviction towards the right post that would have been a beautiful goal, if it was not for the goal line clearance of the Corinthians defender.

With 15 minutes to go the Rafters brought on a sub for rightback Andre Anasi who had been more than substantial in his effort to close down flanked play of the Corinthians.

Enter the quick footed and crafty defender, Che Walcott.

Walcott made an immediate impact as he took space vacated by the Corinthians on the right side at every opportunity. A couple of adventurous and profitable runs magnified why this substitution was made by Coach Greg.

In the 92nd minute Walcott took on his defender counterpart in the box, who quickly found himself at a disadvantage as Walcott wrong footed the defender and stepped past him with ease. Staring at a clear one-on-one shot opportunity with the keeper, the Corinthians left back took a rash challenge that had little chance of avoiding a penalty due to Walcott’s positioning over the ball.

The referee took note of the foul and awarded the Rafters with a penalty kick.

The penalty was taken by center half, Gary McCormick, who had previously nailed the first ever Rafters goal from a spot kick in their first game. However, in this instance fortune was not on the Rafters side as McCormick’s paced shot found the wrong side of the lower right post.

While luck was not present on the penalty taken, it was the skill and determination of McCormick and his fellow defenders that provided great air raid defense as the Corinthians pushed everyone forward in hopes of getting an equalizer.

The sustained one-sided pressure for 3 minutes in stoppage time by the Corinthians proved to be no match for the Rafters composure as each chance was dealt with by the defense.

A sigh of relief was audible as the referee blew the final whistle to secure the score line. Rafter win first conference game 2-1.

The Rafter will play their first away game Tuesday May 10th, 2016 against the Jesters of New Orleans, in New Orleans. They will be back home Friday night @7:00p.m. to play the Houston Regals presented by Yokem Toyota.

For more: visit www.RaftersFC.com

Submitted by Jordan Spratt

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