By: Jordan Spratt
Shreveport, LA – Fresh off taking hold of the Louisiana Cup, the Rafters would conclude their away tour against new NPSL team, Midland-Odessa FC in Midland, Texas. While MOFC is new a NPSL team, they are no stranger to having quality level soccer in their city(ies). They have been in existence for almost a decade in the PDL, after making the switch to the nation’s fastest growing soccer league. It would be no question the Rafters would have a formidable match up on their hands to steal points on the road in the Lone Star conference.
It was a windy and rather chilly day for a game in late May, with a temperature of 63 degrees and winds in excess of 19 mph. Things we thought we could avoid in a summer NPSL season. It would be the much-welcomed return of coach Palmer in a conference game, as he set the formation in a 4-1-3-2. The same formation and team that saw tons of success against the New Orleans Jesters, only days before, with exception of in-form Leonardo Cid Fernandez inserted in the line-up at forward, paired with Jackson Darnell. The role of the midfielders, Jah’lon Johnson and John Pollifrone, was to stay tight in midfield, as the width on attack was provided by fullbacks Jakob Ceullar(R) and Myron Duffy(L). Winger Russell Alvarez would also roam from the flank to the middle of the park as needed.
It wasn’t long after the referee blew his whistle that the Rafters would have an abrupt wakeup call. 46 seconds in to the match, forward Darius Strambler would split the center backs with a through ball finding his partner Ricardo Palomino. Palomino, 30 yards from goal when receiving the ball, would drift forward and to his left- drawing keeper Adam Williams out from his box. With a jab step, right outside-of-the-foot finish, the forward would put MOFC up 1-0. Making it a statistically uphill battle for the Rafters with 89+ minutes to play.
Early on, the difficulty of the Rafters wouldn’t be getting the ball and getting it to either forward, it would be what to do after. Time and time again Darnell or Cid Fernandez would receive the ball and would fail to get any link-up play with any players. This was impart due to the swarming tactic MOFC used to cut off passing lanes in the defensive third.
However, the duo up top would create what would be the best chances for the home side. In the 33rd minute, Darnell would cross a ball back post from the right to find a trailing Pollifrone for a header that unfortunately would only find the arms of MOFC keeper, Braulio Linares-Ortiz.
While it wouldn’t be hard fouls, there would be many a whistle blown for run obstruction and accidental slow-feet reactions by both teams. The foul count for the first half combined would be 13 total.
The first half would end with MOFC dictating most of the possession and legitimate chances on goal. Saves by Williams would keep the score at a manageable 1-0 for the Rafters, as they would hope to regroup at half time.
Often times the Rafters come out almost a different team with reiterated purpose and a can-do mindset. However, this game, the second half would start with the same song of the first half. Less than a minute into the second half, winger Johnny McBeth would get space for himself on the right side to pick out a cross. McBeth hit the ball back post for Strambler, who would involve himself in a goal once again. Strambler would hit the ball right inside the post for the second MOFC goal of the match, coming in the 46th minute.
In all the chaos for the Rafters, Johnson seemed to play particularly well at midfield in only his second game with the club. Johnson, rarely dispossessed, was able to find J. Ceullar pushing up on the right side on a couple of occasions that led to opportunities for the Rafters.
With a 2-goal lead, MOFC stayed on the attack and would ask questions of the Rafters defense yet again. In the 54th minute, a sequence that seemed eerily like that of the second goal, Darius Strambler would cross an out-swinging ball from the right to find winger Maliq Cooper back post. With a flying header for Cooper’s finish, the Rafters night of misery would be capped off with a score line of 3-0.
“It was disappointing to come all this way and not perform. The manner how we lost was not what we expect- it was just disappointing. Their standards weren’t met tonight. They’re disappointed, we’re disappointed and I think they let themselves down tonight with their performance. We’ve got a young team that’s coming together slowly, but tonight was tough for me to take knowing what they can give- I don’t think they gave that tonight,” said Coach Palmer.
This season we’ve seen the highs for the Rafters and this was most certainly a low for the squad that has such high standards. In so many colorful words team owner, Montgomery Cole said his team looked unrecognizable. Knowing what the team is capable of, hopefully the squad makes short of this sophomore slump.
“I don’t think the expectations have changed as of yet. With the New Orleans-away and this long trip to Midland-away, sometimes it can be rough. But it’s about how you react to that and the home tie against Fort Worth coming is going to be, for me, an important game. We have to pick up points, especially at home. The idea was to win our home games and take points [in] away [games], more than we did last year. Obviously two losses in conference is not good. But we’ll regroup, get back together, and we’ll be back in to work on our preparation for Wednesday,”, said Coach Palmer.
The rafters have an immediate opportunity to get their first points of the season, as they face the Fort Worth Vaqueros this Wednesday, May the 24th at 7pm. The timing couldn’t be better for the men to get back to a vaunted stadium full of Rafters fans in soaked in blue, as the attempt to right the ship.
By: Jordan Spratt