By: Jordan Spratt
Shreveport, LA – The Rafters have been waiting for a game that defines the team. We’ve seen glimpses of who they could
be in their first 6 matches. After a great campaign in the inaugural season, the thing to improve upon
was away results. Last year against the Jesters, the team’s failure to get the result needed in the first
game meant that a home victory felt a little hollow with the Jesters winning on away goals- taking the
cup in Shreveport. This year the Rafters would have the opportunity to set the tone of the season in
enemy territory and claim their first ever Louisiana Cup.
Nearly every game this year has seen at least two new names in the roster due to incoming players. This
game the Gold and Blue welcomed Jakob Ceullar(D), John Pollifrone(M), Lucas Pereira and Jahlon
Johnson(M) to the starting line-up. The Rafters geared up for a 4-4-2 formation with keeper Adam
Williams in goal. On attack the team would commit more men forward and convert to more of a 4-1-3-2
with Mark Hammond playing in the hole in front a Sean French-led back line.
Of the midfielders, Russell Alvarez made his presence in the air known early. Alvarez contested every
goal kick and free kick, which was crucial in cementing the tug of war match at midfield. On the ground
of that match was Johnson, who fit in nicely at center midfield as he was able to win tackles and
intercept passes with his Pogba-like stature.
At this point I can’t tell which is more dangerous, throw-ins or corner kicks for the Rafters. With usual
long throw specialist Che Walcott out, Alvarez assumed the role and threatened the Jester’s 6-yard box
just about every time the ball was thrown in past midfield. 3 of the Rafters 5 first half shots came from
throw-ins that normally wouldn’t directly result in a shot on goal.
In past meetings with the Jesters, they have seemed to funnel the ball to one player, down one side.
This time it was the side up against new right-back Jakob Ceullar. Ceullar was ready and active with
tackles that stifled the Jesters attack often at the last second.
In the 11th minute, the Jesters won a corner kick that resulted in the first goal of the match. Corner kick
taker Rolando Sanchez hit an in-swinging ball to the middle of goal and in what would be his only
mistake of the game, keeper Williams bobbled the ball as it crossed the goal line making the score 1-0,
Jesters. The slip would prove to be a complete anomaly, as Williams would be extraordinary for the rest
of the match.
There is a well-known thing in sports known as the short memory. Defined as: despite a, untimely and
uncharacteristic mistake, you’re able to forget and remember the player you are and performance
you’re capable of. This is exactly what would ensue for the Rafters keeper, as he made nearly two back
to back incredible saves to keep the Rafters in reach. The second of the two was something you would
see on a poster. With a man bearing down towards goal on the left, Williams would spring to his right
and stop a full power shot only 7 yards away from goal.
With both teams equal in nearly every facet of the game, the Jesters would just slightly out shoot the
Rafters 6-4, possession being even. Specific to the Rafters, they looked like more of a team passing
between the back line and midfield. The transition from defense to attack was more fluid. With the base
set for the second half, the Rafters would trail 1-0 at halftime.
No matter your occupation- around midway through your work day, I think we could all stand to benefit
from a locker room talk from the coaching staff of the Rafters because it seems impossible to not be
fully invested and amped for the second opportunity.
The Rafters would begin the half with a flurry of shots on goal but it would take less than 10 minutes for
them to hang a result. In the 53rd minute, Jackson Darnell darted toward the left corner flag with the
ball. Darnell pulled the ball back to the left of the 18- yard box for Leandro Fernandez who was facing
goal about 22-yards away. Well outside standard striking distance and spotting the keeper off his line,
Fernandez took one touch and curved a perfectly placed ball into the bottom back-right of the net. It
would be the Rafter’s rookie second wonder goal of the year in as many games. Rafters tie it up 1-1.
Knowing the game would go into penalties if the score held at 2-2 on aggregate, both teams stayed
aggressive- even allowing a fullback to aid in the attack. That aggression was personified with yellow
cards for late tackles and cynical grabs of jerseys. With 15 minutes to play, the talk from both teams had
reached its peak, however, nothing close to the skirmish back in Shreveport.
The aforementioned 4-1-3-2 was now in full swing as the Rafters sought to seal the game. Coach Greg
stayed confident in his team that he’d fielded, with only making 2 substitutions (Fernandez and Zachary
Breaux) that weren’t in the last 5 minutes. Mark Hammond would make way for the more attack
minded midfielder Zachary Breaux, which was indicative of the Rafters wanting to finish the game off
before penalties. After 15 minutes of looks of bewilderment and disgust at chances missed and brilliant
keeper saves by both Williams and his counterpart, Colin Hanley, the Louisiana cup would be decided by
pressurized spot kicks and cool nerves.
The Rafters first 4 takers would calmly dispatch their shots: Fernandez, Duffy, Breaux, and Johnson.
Adam made the mind game all downhill for the Rafters. The Jesters’ first shot was empathically blocked,
which added pressure on the rest of the Jesters takers. With the Rafters converting 4/5 shots, it was up
to Williams to seal the game. And he delivered. The last shot was blocked as the shot stopper was
mobbed by his teammates and Rafters owner Montgomery Cole. The Rafters would claim the Louisiana
cup for the first time, making it two pieces of silverware for the season.
“I messed up the first time and then I felt like I had to make up for it. Recently we’ve been doing a lot of
team bonding. We’re a lot closer than we were a few weeks ago. Leo came on and brought it back for
me, so I felt like I had to do my bit to keep us in it. Main thing I noticed was our team confidence,” said
Rafters fans and the team alike, will hope to keep this form well into the season as it was easily their
most in-sync and complete performance yet. With a roster deeper than last year, it’s what everyone
knows this team is capable of.
“It’s always great to come to New Orleans and win and to take the trophy home with us is a bonus. I
think for me it was more to the fact that the performance was what we wanted to get a kickstart to the
season. I said to the guys the performance was key for us getting the level that we’ve been wanting to
get to and that was the first one that I’ve seen this season that was really up there. And that’s the
standard. That’s the way we gotta play and that’s what we have to do consistently,” said Coach Palmer.
Since the sale of the team, Rafters owner Montgomery Cole has seen his club take 2 of 2 cups to start
the season and hopes to see it only become better.
“This cup was a big disappointment to lose last year, so being able to come back in the second year and
not only have a great win by the boys but win the cup was a great opportunity for us. We’ve had kind of
an unsettled start to the season but this is the fresh start that we needed and they showed that they’re
together, they want to win, and they want to fight. Not only for the Louisiana cup but for the conference
playoffs. I’m proud of ‘em and proud of the coaching staff,” said Cole.
The three game away tour concludes May 21st
, in the first ever meeting with conference opponent,
Midland- Odessa FC in Midland, TX.