Own Goal Spoils Islander Party

By Jorge Carrillo, a-league.com Match Reporter
The show is on in Puerto Rico.

On an almost perfect night for Puerto Rican soccer, the Toronto Lynx snatched a 1-0 overtime win at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in front of around 6,000 loud, excited fans. The outcome of the match spoiled the fun for the locals: there was a huge, roaring crowd unseen before in a soccer match here in Puerto Rico (save for Pele in a 70s exhibition), and the Islanders showed some serious skills before an unfortunate play ended their dream of an inaugural win.

It was a typical opening game, with both teams showing a lot of insecurity and lacking real game flow, especially in the first half.

Both teams were feeling each other out, with Toronto starting strong off the gate, while Puerto Rico wasn't able to even control the ball. However, the Toronto attack was thwarted time and time again by a secure Islander defense which kept their goalie Andrew Nucifora safe.

In the 14th minute, Ali Gerba finally made Nucifora sweat a bit with a header just a few feet from goal, but the ball fell into the goalie's gloves. Just a few minutes earlier, Islander Martin A. Zapata had two long runs along the right sideline but the Lynx "D" responded well.

The Lynx faced a big problem early in the game when forward John Barry Nusum came off the pitch in the 24th minute due to an injury. Rumba Munthali, a defender, came in as John's sub.

Just afterwards the Islander attack came alive with the homegrown Hector Rivera turning on the crowd with a spectacular kick that just zipped over the crossbar.

Nevertheless, both attacks didn't really create any serious danger. Both Rivera and Munthali had chances, as did Mauricio, the Islanders' Brazilian striker. It was Mauricio who first made a serious threat to Lynx goalkeeper Bryheem Hancock. In the 44th minute, Mauricio received a pass just outside the penalty box and shot hard and high. Hancock had to stretch to his right to make a brilliant save, and in the ensuing corner kick Hancock came out hard and swatted the ball away from danger.

The second half started out slow, but then the Islanders turned up the heat and had their best ten minutes of the game, putting the Lynx against the ropes. Zapata was still wreaking havoc on the left side of the Toronto defense, while Mauricio lost a scoring chance in the 50th minute when hesitating inside the box. H. Rivera also had a scoring chance when he beat Hancock to a ball sent by Mauricio into the box and missed wide left with the header. The Lynx struggled at this stage.

Lynx's head coach Duncan Wilde later explained what happened at this phase of the game: "They (the Islanders) changed when they put three up top early (in the second half). I didn't think they were going to do that. We organized at halftime to go three at the back. I had no intention of coming here for the draw. He (Islanders head coach Victor Hugo Barros) came up with three up top right away and we ended up with a 3 (attackers) on 3 (defenders) situation. We had to scramble to get reorganized. We went to 4 (defenders) again... after about ten minutes of the second half we weathered that little storm... I felt we were very, very good value after that."

It was the 52nd minute and the Lynx were gasping for air, but indeed weathered the storm nevertheless. Meanwhile, the Islanders were dominating but they could not finish. Of course, that in soccer is a crime you pay later.

Wilde and the Lynx made on-field adjustments and stopped the Islander onslaught. Actually, they took back the game. In the 72th minute Gerba shot way wide left from outside the box. Then came the best Toronto scoring chance when Edgar Bartolomeu, in the 74th minute, received an impressively long inbound from Adrian Serioux and hit the crossbar at point blank range.

"I thought he actually scored the winner" confessed Wilde after the game.

It would have indeed meant the victory, but the gold and black would have to wait. At least, they regained control. According to Wilde the Lynx "were getting the better of the game".

In the 86th minute Luis Fernando Zuleta of Puerto Rico had a chance but his header was controlled by Hancock.

And then came overtime to the dismay of the crowd who thought their team deserved a win. Yet Toronto was able to escape regulation and even had chances to win.

Overtime started with controversy when Lewis Blois of Toronto was shown a red card for what referee Reggie Rutty thought was an excessively violent tackle. An assistant coach was also sent off for his protest.

"I thought it was harsh that our boy was red-carded in his first offense." said Wilde, "He hadn't made a foul in the whole game"

Nevertheless, the Islanders could not capitalize on the man advantage, with no significant scoring opportunities.

The missed chances finally caught up to the Italia-blue-clad Islanders. Right past the 100th minute, Munthali is fouled along the right sideline. Jamie Dodds, who came in as a sub early in the second half, sent a wicked foul shot into the box and after a couple of shots in the middle of a scramble, Ali Gerba shot and the ball hit Diego Deering of the Islanders, deflecting the ball into the net to the right of Nucifora.

The Lynx burst into joy, while the Islanders and the crwod stood still... stunned. Zuleta acknowledged that Deering "even cried in the locker room after the match".

However, despite the loss, it was a relative success for the home team. Islanders coach Victor Hugo Barros, once a player for Brazil's Gremio, appeared to think so.

"Our team played well above expectations." comments Barros. "This game could have gone either way: it was a 50-50 deal... but the thing is we came out and played offensively. Its our first game and our boys showed character, personality, and control. The first half we were a little bit nervous but in the second period we worked the ball much better."

Barros added that "the pitch was new and the ball bounced too much, and so we have to get accustomed to this surface". As for the crowd that showed up at the Loubriel, Barros said "The fans have been great. They were very excited and soon they will believe in us and our work... I do think so".

Wilde of course was happy in the win. "I'm very pleased obviously... we have been together for 3 weeks. We are kind of halfway through our preparation so to come out with three points is a good bonus for us."

It's that kind of bonus the home crowd wanted for the Islanders. But then as they say "it's all good". Soccer is back.

TL: Hancock, Blois, Hughes (Dodds), Serioux, Mayard, Mattachione, Faria (Arango), DiPlacido, Bartolomeu (O'Neil), Gerba and Nusum (Munthali).

PR: Nucifora, Novarini, Zuleta, Gores, Deering, A. Rivera, Zapata, Garay (Mime Ortiz), Mauricio, Juninho (Astondoa), H. Rivera

1-0 Deering (own goal on shot by Gerba) Min. 100

Yellow cards:
TL: Serioux, Mayard, Munthali, Bartolomeu
PR: Garay, Mauricio, Juninho, Deering

Red cards:
TL: Blois (direct red)

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