By: Jordan Spratt
Shreveport, LA – With the recent cup games out of the way and others put on hold, the Rafters played their first conference game in Houston against the Houston Regals. Last year the Rafters bested the Regals in front of a home crowd, with a score to the tune of 2-1. This was a much-anticipated match as Coach Palmer is known to put a premium on conference games. It would be my guess he knows the amount of points needed to make playoffs better than his own driver’s license number. However, the Rafter’s gaffer would have to be a bystander in the stands as he served a one game suspension stemming from when Rafter’s midfielder Mark Hammond was given an unjust red card.
The Rafters began the game in a 4-4-2 that was identical to the formation of the Regals. The Rafter’s defensive line stayed high just as they have done in previous back 4 formations.
Obviously, the condition of the pitch is something that affects the game, but when that affect is harmful to the players it is worthy of note, as there were multiple patches of unsettled sod all over the field. In the 3rd minute, forward Jordan Langley suffered a non-contact injury forcing coach Barker to substitute the Welshman.
Jackson Darnell was probably the most active of any player, as he was able to draw defenders and lay the ball off for midfielders, John Plumbar and Leandro Fernandez. Being the tallest of nearly every Rafters player, Darnell used his stature well as he was able to win most air balls. In the 10th minute, Sean French, who’s free kick distribution could be that of a top midfielder, nearly found Darnell forty yards out for a back-post header attempt that would just miss.
Despite tit for tat possession and opportunities, about half way through the first half, coach Barker shook things up with an apparent formation change. The Rafters went to their 3-5-2 formation as center-halve, Riley Unger, moved to the defensive midfield role. This change led to multiple attempts mainly down the right side as shots were taken that just missed either side of the post. Okeke and Darnell played well together as both had the strength to hold and create.
“In the first half, it looked like we were having a little too much of a struggle in the middle of the field- so we decided to bring one of our center halves in midfield to take care of that problem. Doing so it seemed to resolve it and we started to build more pace on the ball and we were able to control the midfield a little more,” said Coach Barker.
The Rafters being heavily out shot would be misleading as few attempts troubled Lance Quini. With possession 50-50, the half would end at 0-0 as either team could be on top with near misses.
Generally, it’s hard for fans to tell how well a coaching staff is, but one thing that is visible in every sport is seeing how a team comes out in the second half. Whatever was said to the Rafters at half time clearly resonated because they came out swinging.
In the 48th minute, the Rafters were able to pass about around the border of the Regals 18-yard box. As it should, it took Regal players out of position and left others to cover for their mistakes. CDM, Riley Unger received a ball from the left at the top of the D and quickly found Darnell to his right. Rather than a rudimentary touch, Darnell popped the ball over the defender and himself- and as if the defender didn’t exist, chipped the ball over the outcoming keeper. Silencing an away crowd is dandy and all, but forcing them to give you props because of your cleverness is another, as Darnell put the Rafters up 0-1.
Still hungry for more, the Rafters would double their lead only 6 minutes later as defender/free kick
maestro would stand over a dead ball at half field. French served the ball to the left of the 18-yard box
and to meet it was Okeke. Okeke brought the ball down with time enough to zip a ball far-post, right in
front of goal, as Darnell would blast home the ball bottom right. Darnell would be rewarded for all his
work in the first half and calmly put the Rafters up 2 goals to nil.
When you go up two goals- away in a conference game, you can bet the opposition will throw
everything they have in an effort to salvage points. After the goals, you could tell the Regals played with
much more fight. They would see the results of the added intensity in the 64th minute as a corner kick
taken was directed toward the far post. Unmarked Regals player Brian Tello, would find the back of the
net with a header to Quini’s right. 1-2 Rafters.
The Rafter’s struggle would continue as the things began to unravel for the team and for the referees.
Late in the game there were multiple cards given, however, these fouls were given for what seem to be
referee dissent. From the stands perspective, it seemed odd because cards given for dissent are usually
given to an animated and belligerent player, none of which could be said for the Rafters players who
“The officials did give some very dodgey calls. I felt like they were very inconsistent in how they made
their calls. Some [fouls] they seem to give them, that we didn’t get. [Such as] a handball in the first half
was given against us and the same thing happened and it wasn’t called for us. Just some things that
didn’t seem to go our way,” said CB Sean French.
In the 70th minute, the Rafters would seem to be caught off guard after a Regals goal kick taken to the
left. The Regals player looped a ball over the back line and his forward. Prior to this opportunity, the
referee had lost his clue about a half an hour ago, of what offsides is and isn’t. Given free pass to go, the
Regal forward Ricardo Caliman, got a 1v1 opportunity with Lance as he put the Regals Level with the
Rafters at 2-2.
The misery for the Rafters met its crescendo in the 85th minute. At the top of the 18-yard box, a ball was
flicked toward the spot-kick marker to a regal player Jorge Callegas. Only 6 yards from goal, Callegas
scored, giving the Regals a gut wrenching 3-2 lead. The regals would go on to win 3-2.
“Playing on the road is never easy, the referees don’t always help and they definitely didn’t help this
game. But we can’t make that as an excuse. Going up 0-2 it seemed like our players fell a little flat and
all of the sudden a spark came for Houston, as they transitioned into the team that wanted it more.
They put in work and it paid off for em,” said Coach Barker.
The only positive thing that could be said about this loss is that this happened to the men early in the
season and can serve as a reminder.
“We have a lot of things to work on. We haven’t gotten together fully as a team yet. Some players have
just arrived only two and three days ago. I feel like once we get together in the next week or two, things
should start to go the way we want them to,” said French.
The Blue and Gold will be anxious for a bounce back win in the conference, as next up on the list will be
Midland Odessa FC. Until then, the men will have to settle for a grudge match versus the New Orleans
Jesters, as they aim to lift the Louisiana cup on New Orleans soil May 16th at Pan America Stadium.
By: Jordan Spratt