By: Jordan Spratt
Shreveport, LA – I could be accused of recency bias, but I would say round 3 of Rafters and Jesters was the best one yet. Every element needed for the derby match-up was there. Plenty of yellow cards, a memorable match scuffle and above all else, focused beautiful football. The Rafters also donned their annual special uniform raising money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. I’m sorry if you missed it but let’s catch ya up.
Coach Greg deployed his men in their 3-5-2 against the Jesters’ 4-4-1-1. The Jester’s seemingly simple formation had different facets in different situation such as, in defense they basically turned in to a back 6(4-2) and when the ball was on the right-wing midfielder, Mason Walsh, had the freedom to roam, attack, and defend as needed. This meant the Rafters had to keep an eye on him for much of the match and in once instance, put him in check.
The central midfield saw its first start pairing of John Plumber and Leandro Fernandez which looks to be a dangerous combination as the two complimented each other nicely. As the focal points of the formation, Che Walcott and counterpart Jacob Cunningham were active and productive early. They always made themselves available for a cross field switch. While the Jester’s defense was focused on closing down the ball, twice Che was able to make it to the goal line in attack, after being found open on the wing. Cunningham, who is very good on the ball, was able to create out of triangle-passes with Plumber, Bush(F) and/or N. Hammond.
The first fruits of their labor came as Che, in oceans of space in the box, was slipped a pass through from midfield- exposing the flat line of the defense. The glancing shot would go wide left as the score remained knotted at 0-0.
The 3 at the back doesn’t call for speed, just organization. Bergman, French, Ariza with Mark Hammond in front were exceptional in shifts and picking out passes to ignite attack. French and M. Hammond stayed in constant communication with goal tender, Lance Quini as the Jesters tried to have combination play down the middle.
Within the first, 15 minutes Quini had made 5 on target saves. Tough, ridiculous saves have become something of the norm for the Rafters’ keeper. However, in the 16th minute, failure to close down a Jester’s player inside the box resulted in the first goal of the night, as Mason Morise struck a ball across his body to the far post putting the Jesters up 1-0.
Shreveport is well accustomed to the shrewd cunningness of forward, Steven Bush, as a Magnet Mustang and LSUS Pilot and in the 36th minute we would see it again. Bush received a pass at the corner of the 18’ from RW Jacob Cunningham. With a defender at his back, Bush posted up and with two quick body feints, drew two defenders including Cunningham’s defender. With Cunningham left alone, Bush slid in a through pass toward the goal line. Cunningham with all the time in the world picked out a wonderful low driven cross inside the 6-yard box where it was none other than Walcott who met the ball with a convincing strike. Rafters would answer the Jesters 20 minutes later making the score 1-1.
“When Jacob came down and he squared that ball across in space…my eyes lit up ‘cause I missed the first one but I’m not gonna miss this one. I slid in and tucked my foot in behind the defender’s foot and tapped the ball in to the back of the net,” said Walcott.
The last 10 minutes of the half after the goal seemed to galvanize the Rafters, as they would play well and organized to finish the half.
Coming into the second half, Coach Greg would change the formation up to a 4-4-2. Despite taking one player out of midfield, it was as the though we gained another forward with the fullbacks Myron Duffy and Bergman, pressing high aiding in attack. 58 minutes in, Coach Palmer would make two forward substitutions, as new Rafters players Jordan Langley and Jackson Darnell would replace N. Hammond and S. Bush. Langley made an immediate impact getting two blocked shots early.
“I think the first half we struggle with the formation- in the second half we made a change in our formation at half time. So, we changed to 4-4-2 and it worked out a lot better for us and you could see that,” said Coach Palmer.
While the Rafters were somewhat out possessed in the first half, the 4-4-2 much more direct, made sure the ball stayed high and put constant pressure on the south LA visitors. This allowed for more fluid counters with a less crowded midfield. Darnell would put his stamp on the match, as he would lead a counter and take on 3 players who were mercifully let off the hook by their keeper coming out to get the ball from the forward’s feet.
Toward the end of the match we got a clear picture of how much these in-state teams love each other. None at all. In the 71st minute a foul was called on CM John Plumber for a harmless infraction on Jester’s player, Mason Walsh. As soon as the ball was put back in play, Walsh went right at Plumber for a hard retaliation foul. The rare occasion where we’re allowed to pity the referees came as tempers on both side boiled over and created a pushing and shouting scrum. Then Rafters fans were allowed to go back to thinking all referees are horrible, as Walsh and even Plumber we’re both given yellows. The temper would simmer slow as more cautions were given out. Hopefully he won’t read this, but I think the referee did a very good job of keeping control of the match beyond that point.
The finals minutes of the game would see the Rafters get a number of opportunities from set pieces- just enough to keep our home crowd rockin’. The first leg of Rafters and Jesters would end in a 1-1 tie as they prepare to claim the cup in New Orleans May 16th.
“It’s difficult to play away from home and get results but I think us going there and it being a one goal game with the away goal [for the Jesters]. But with the players we’ve got and the rivalry being what it is, you can see what it means to the players tonight with a little scrap that was on the field. So, we’ll be prepared- I feel I have the squad to go there and win. Obviously two away goals would be great for us, that way we don’t have to go into extra time or PKs but with the talent I’ve seen tonight were coming together slowly and I think with the weekend [game] coming up were gonna hit the ground running,” said Coach Palmer.
The Rafters start their away tour with their first conference game against the Houston Regals this Saturday May 13th in Houston. The boys would love to see the Rafters faithful fans travel with them as they go into the den of three hostile away crowds.