By Jose Terlaje

You could feel the tension between the JFK Islanders (3-1-1) and the HCA Eagles (5-0) at JFK’s Ramsey Field as the two teams battled it out to maintain their undefeated season. The Eagles ended up coming out on top with the victory, winning the match 1-0 and handing the Islanders their first loss.

The basics of soccer were vital in the Eagles’ game as they picked up a clean sheet against the Islanders. The Eagles have also only allowed one goal to be scored on them this season.

“JFK is a great team that we respect and they play really good futbol. We may meet up with them again in the playoffs so from this point we must be prudent and correct the mistakes we made during the game and to stress the importance of the basics”, said HCA head coach Kun Ho Rhee, when asked about his team’s plans for the rest of the season since defeating one of the better teams in the league.

Early in the game both teams were able to get in rhythm quickly but were unlucky when it came to finishing their shots. Just moments into the game, JFK’s high speed offense got Philip Ogo in position to score as he weaved through Harvest defenders to get a clear shot but came up short as the shot went directly to HCA’s keeper Sean Evans.

The Eagles used their pass based offense to move the ball around and wait for holes to open in the Islander defense but key passes were intercepted by JFK defenders who quickly switched into offensive mode, sending the ball down the field to their wings. JFK’s Sora Recella found Ogo inside the HCA’s goal box but was unable to finish with HCA’s keeper coming up with another save. The Eagles wasted no time in responding as Isiah Lagutang sent a cross that connected with striker, Marlon Evans, who was unable to finish, kicking the ball out the side.

Islanders forward Sora Recella fights for possession against the Harvest defense. (photo by Robert Balajadia)

Islanders forward Sora Recella fights for possession against the Harvest defense. (photo by Robert Balajadia)

As JFK regained possession, they used the speed and ball control of Devan Mendiola to run the ball down the sideline and get into scoring position but HCA’s keeper would deny the Islanders once more, picking up another save.

From that point, both teams started trading possessions throughout the half, with each teams’ defenses sending back any ball that entered the goalie box. With the end of the first half nearing, HCA kicked its offense into overdrive with Lagutang finding teammate Ben Wiegand 13 yards outside the goal, but Wiegand’s quick one-timer went wide left. T

he Eagles were on a mission to score though, quickly regaining possession of the ball and in the 38th minute, Lagutang sent a beautiful through ball to Marlon Evans who cut just inside the left corner of the goalie box, beating every defender and getting a clean shot that found back of the net, giving the Eagles and 1-0 lead as time expired in the first half.

“Before the game I was picturing in-game situations that could happen and what I should do in case I find myself caught in one of them. I’m always looking to find my teammates. When I get double teamed I try to keep the ball tight and maintain possession so my teammates have time to get open”, said midfielder Isiah Lagutang, who set the pace for his team with his excellent ball control and distribution, when asked about his performance in the game. Lagutang added that he came into the game a bit inspired from watching highlights of Lionel Messi’s ball control prior to the game.

At the start of the second half, the Eagles used their momentum from the first half to pump up their offense and attempt to build a safety net by increasing the score. Just moments into the half, HCA’s Lagutang found himself in great scoring position off a throw-in but the shot went wide left. JFK would not go down without a fight though, coming into the half as energized as ever, using winger Ryo Sakane to bring the ball down the left side and feed teammates multiple times but the Islander were not able to convert open shots into goals.

Marlon Evans chases down a cleared ball to try and get advantage. (photo by Robert Balajadia)

Marlon Evans chases down a cleared ball to try and get advantage. (photo by Robert Balajadia)

The Eagles responded to the aggressive offense of the Islanders with shots of their own but were unlucky in converting those shots into goals as well. As time started to run down, the Islanders began to go into desperation mode, sending the long ball down the field through the air on almost every possession.

HCA’s defense held strong though, winning many of the long passes in the air, sending the ball back over to JFK’s side of the field. Midway through the half, HCA took more time with the ball, spreading the field and passing around more in order to kill time. The Islanders would get an opportunity to score off a free kick with just minutes left in the game but make anything of that opportunity. The Eagles held onto the ball and continued run down the clock with their passes and ball control, keeping the Islanders scoreless and winning the game.

“We decided at the beginning of the year to use an offense based on moving the ball around instead of being physical causing us to work more on our passing. We try our best to work well together. We have a bunch of great players with good heart and they enjoy playing together and supporting each other”, said Coach Rhee when asked about his team’s excellent passing in the game.

Throughout the entire match, it seemed like HCA Keeper Sean Evans had ice running through his veins, showing no fear and picking up multiple saves, keeping the Islanders scoreless.

When asked about his preparation coming into the game against JFK’s high powered offense, Evans said, “The good thing was that I knew all the forwards from JFK and their style of play because I’ve challenged them before in outside leagues. I’ve been inspired all year from Tim Howard’s performance on team USA in this year’s World Cup especially in his game against Belgium. The only thing on my mind was keeping the ball out of the net.” Evans also noted that a crucial point in his team’s victory was all the balls his team won in the air that kept the Islanders out of a position to succeed on offense.

Islanders Ryo Sakane attempts a shot while falling out of bounds. (photo by Robert Balajadia)

Islanders Ryo Sakane attempts a shot while falling out of bounds. (photo by Robert Balajadia)

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