The Stratford Boys Varsity Soccer Team had a very successful week winning three out of four matches.
The first win came January 7th against Cypress Woods with a score of 3 -0. The next two wins were in the annual Klein sponsored tournament. Overall, our Spartans came out on top vs Summer Creek 2 – 0 on January 9th and 3 – 0 vs Alvin on the 10th. The only loss came against a quick and physical Klein team 3 – 0 on January 11.
The January 7th game vs Cypress Woods on a cool clear breezeless night was the final non-tournament preseason game. The Spartans came out quick with a penalty goal by Francies Galdino at six minutes into the game. A Cypress Woods player tripped Thommaso Maule in the penalty box giving Stratford the opportunity on which Francies was able to capitalize. Besides the penalty goal, play for the first thirty minutes was balanced between the two teams in possession and field position. But the Spartan defense was able to disrupt the Cypress Woods offensive attempts, setting the foundation for Stratford to make their own offensive penetrations. This paid off at 18 minutes into the game as Francies Galdino scored another goal off a nice assisting feed pass from Hamdan Al Tuma. Stratford was able to keep Cypress Woods scoreless with some solid goalkeeping by Alex Gutierrez at the 14-minute point. Cypress Woods penetrated down the right side managing a center pass for a point-blank shot that Alex deflected off-course for a Cypress Woods corner. But the Spartans were able to clear the corner attempt and the pressure was off. Our Spartans continued the good defensive play through the balance of the half with Nathan Siciliano clearing a Cypress Woods free kick in dangerous territory. Patrick Ndaye made an athletic header of a ball to break up an opponent run with 6 minutes left in the half. Remarkably, Francies Galdino picked up a hat trick with his third goal at 12 minutes to go as Yuto Komiya provided a nice feed pass. The pass positioned Francies at the right post where he made a deft move to the left allowing an open shot and score. Stratford almost scored again less than a minute later off a corner, but the referee ruled that the Cypress Woods goalie had possession before the ball went into the net. The half ended with a commanding 3 – 0 Stratford lead.
Now your humble reporter can only speculate what the Cypress Woods coach told his players as they huddled in the far corner of the pitch at half time. Whatever he said, perhaps worthy of a best-selling book on leadership, perhaps related to their parents taking away their electronic devices, a different Cypress Woods team came out for the second half. Cypress Woods played like hornets coming out of a nest that had been whacked with a stick a few times. To be honest, this invigorated level of play kept our Spartans on their heels for most of the half, managing only a few offensive penetrations into Cypress Woods territory. But such is the advantage of a 3 to 0 lead. Despite Cypress Woods inspired level of play, they only managed to score one goal. And that was off a hand ball penalty shot one minute into the half. That play was not without controversy as at the same time the field judge stopped play for the hand ball, the side judge was vigorously waving his flag for Cypress Woods offsides. Unfortunately, after a brief discussion between the refs, the hand ball ruling stood to the disappointment to the players and the fans. In the unlikely event, gentle reader, that you doubt this reporter’s assertions regarding the balance of play in the half, the following is a quick summary of the action by time to play (Cypress Woods abbreviated to CW and Stratford to SF for brevity):
35:20 CW makes crossing pass in front of goal for CW corner kick SF clears
34:42 CW shot deflected, Will Emerson steals, CW steals back
33:19 CW shot high over goal hits field goal (other kind of football) crossbar
29:03 CW header off corner kick hits goal crossbar, CW header again deflected by Nick Hay off the goal post
28:45 CW subsequent corner collected by Nick Hay
27:00 CW free kick off SF foul
25:22 CW free kick off SF foul
23:55 CW corner, SF cleared for CW throw-in
22:44 CW free kick off SF Foul and Yellow Card
21:22 CW shot Nick Hay save
16:08 CW free kick off SF foul just outside the penalty box
14:08 CW free kick off SF foul 15 yards out from penalty box
12:56 Strong CW shot grabbed by Nick Hay
9:00 CW free kick off SF foul and Yellow Card
5:36 CW shot hits crossbar but goes out
4:20 CW free kick off SF foul
2:47 CW makes a pass to the right side, but SF forces out for a corner, that kick deflected for another CW corner
2:46 Reporter’s hand cramps up
Stratford weathers the second-half onslaught with great team defensive play for the 3 – 1 win.
The match vs Summer Creek on January 9th came on a warm cloudy afternoon as the start of the Klein hosted tournament. Summer Creek played a stand-off flex style of defense that should have played to Stratford’s advantage. But both teams had challenges making consistent passing connections in the first half playing to a 0 – 0 tie. Patrick Ndaye made a nice pick-off of a Summer Creek pass at 12 minutes in. Four minutes later, Francies Galdino found himself alone with a 1 on 1 against the opposing goalie who got a hand in position for a deflection. Summer Creek came back with offense chances from nine to seven minutes left, but the Stratford defense was able to brush them aside. Stratford had a free-kick with six minutes left for another scoring opportunity, but the shot hit the goal post. With just a minute left, Jack Manke got tripped up for a Summer Creek foul, but the free-kick by Milan Jokic was over the goal.
The second half started well and ended well for our Spartans as they started to pull out an advantage on position and possession as their passing connections improved. Just a minute and a half into play Stratford had a shot off a deflected pass that the opposition goalie got a hand on. About 5 minutes into the half, Yuto Komiya was fouled and took the free-kick. But his shot rolled right to the goalie. A minute later, Francies Galdino’s header shot was deflected out for a corner. But the wind, which increased in velocity since the beginning of the game, took the corner kick out toward center field not allowing Stratford a chance to capitalize. At 9 minutes into the half, Alvin had a free-kick that had good pace and was close to being on target, but the ball hit the crossbar and was cleared. Seven minutes later, Stratford had a free kick off a Summer Creek foul that was just 10 yards out from the penalty box. The goalie fumbled the catch, but there were no Spartans in the vicinity to follow-up. Fortunately, a minute later Francies Galdino pulled off a great individual effort, stealing the ball on the left side, navigating through the defensive players and delivering Stratford’s first score to go up 1 – 0. For the next 20 minutes, the two teams traded free kicks, corner kicks and shots. Twenty minutes into the half, Will Emerson made a nice drive to the right side but his centering pass was out for a goal kick. Chris Mandundu showed great hustle two minutes later taking a long pass from the right but the Summer Creek defense eventually caught up to him. With 16 minutes to go Patrick Ndaye had a free kick 15 yards out from the penalty box, but his shot was high and left. With 10 minutes to go, Tommaso Maule was knocked over for a Summer Creek foul and Yellow Card, but the free kick was high and right. With about 4 minutes to play, just when you think the only score would come from great individual play, Stratford pulled off a team goal for the ages. Sam Cohen started it off with a nice crossing pass from the far right side to the goal post on the left. There, a waiting Will Emerson executed a leaping header pushing the ball back to the center to Nathan Purvis following up on the play and was in perfect position for the score taking Stratford up 2 – 0 and the eventual win.
The second game of the tournament found our Spartans vs Alvin on the following day, January 10. The soccer gods were smiling that late afternoon with warm, humid and overcast conditions. Stratford fans were happy to only endure a few sprinkles as most of the rain passed to the North. However, there was a stiff wind from the Southeast that entered the open end of the stadium. From the beginning of the game, our Spartans found an edge on possession as they were able to take advantage of Alvin passing and possession miscues. Three minutes into the game Tommaso Maule made a nice dig on possession and was able to get off a feeder pass to Francies Galdino who was rushing toward the goal on the far side. But the pass was a little long and the ball went out for a goal kick. Francies had another opportunity off a break, but the goalie covered his shot with a good save. Stratford was able to get on the scoreboard first however at 15 minutes into the match with Jack Manke scoring off a nice pass from Sam Cohen that floated over the Alvin defense on the right side. Jack made a quick move to the left and found a spot on the upper left side of the goal leaving the goalie no chance for the stop. Unfortunately, ten minutes later Jack Manke was involved in a head to head collision with an Alvin player as both went for a header on a pass from Milan Jokic. The Alvin player got the foul and Yellow Card. The resulting free-kick was taken by Milan but was too high over the goal. Stratford kept up the pressure with ten minutes left in the half as Jack Manke made a nice pass, just over the top of the Alvin defense, to Tommaso Maule but the two couldn’t connect. Stratford managed two more shots on goal, one each by Hamdan Al-Tuma and Milan Jokic, but the Alvin goalie was ready for them. The half ended with a lot of action, however. With a minute and a half to go Edmond Ndaye and Nathan Siciliano teamed up for a great defensive stop of an Alvin run. With a minute left Stratford scored with Patrick Johnston connecting after a pass into the goal box by Sam Cohen. Stratford scored again no less than 30 seconds later as Tommaso Maule made a shot to the left side of the goal from the right side of the field. The half ended with our Spartans up 3 – 0.
The complexion of the game changed somewhat in the second half as Stratford took the end of the field that put them going into the wind. Or perhaps the opposing coach was able to deliver an inspirational speech. In any case, Alvin was able to get the first shot on goal just 3 minutes into the half and mustered a few more offensive penetrations than the first half. Stratford also had some early offensive chances with Hamdan Al-Tuma getting a nice shot going left to right across the field forcing a deflection off the goalie for a corner. But the goalie was able to pick off the subsequent kick. Francies Galdino also had a try with a shot a few minutes later. It wasn’t until 15 minutes into the half that Stratford had another shot on goal as possession bounced back and forth. Stratford had a free kick by Hamdan Al-Tuma at 16 minutes in due to an Alvin hand ball, but the shot went right to the goalie. With 18 minutes to play, Alvin had a breakout run managing to get behind our goalie, but Nathan Siciliano was able to cover with enough pressure to force the shot to hit the goal post. Over the next 4 minutes, Stratford had shots by Milan Jokic off a free-kick, an attempt by Hamdan Al-Tuma that went wide, a shot by Yuto Komiya after a nice series of passes and a nice run by Chris Mandundu and Jack Manke that forced the opposing goalie out for a disappointing stop. With a minute left, Alvin had a reasonable final chance with free-kick just outside the goal area, but the shot went right to Nick Hay. The game ended with Stratford on the winning end 3 – 0.
The final game of the tournament was held on a bright cool afternoon on January 11th vs Klein. Stratford had several chances early on, but this was not to be reflective of the tenor of the rest of the game. Klein displayed an overall quickness that, combined with a very physical and high-pressure defense, demanded a high level of quick accurate passes to open teammates for the Spartans to make progress. Unfortunately, it was not until later in the game that Stratford was able to adjust, and by that time it was too late. Klein took an earlier lead in the first half at 19 minutes played as a long throw-in made its way in front of the goal. Nick Hay made a great save of the first Klein shot but a Klein player was well-positioned to score off the rebound. Stratford soon came back 4 minutes later as Francies Galdino made a quick move off the left side only to have his shot stopped by a solid save by the Klein goalkeeper. Stratford had another chance 20 minutes in when a Klein foul gave Stratford a free kick 10 yards out from the penalty area. That shot went out for a corner kick, but a header by Jack Manke off the corner was out for a goal kick. The final 20 minutes of the half had Klein with the advantage on possession with a dozen shots on goal or corner attempts. Nick Hay did yeoman’s duty making several great saves to help Keep Klein scoreless in that period.
Unfortunately, the damn broke in the second half with Klein making two scores in the first two minutes. For the first goal, Klein had a break to goal that Alex Gutierrez came out aggressively to defend. Alex got a hand on the shot, but another Klein player was positioned for a score following the deflection. The second goal was off a penalty shot following a foul by a Stratford player in the penalty area. This was particularly disappointing as the referee signaled it was due to a push when clearly it was routine shoulder to shoulder contact between the two players. Regardless, given the score, the questionable call was not a factor in the game. Klein was able to maintain its edge as their defense did a good job maintaining pressure and effectively using double teams to keep Stratford off balance. This was not made easier by the level of physical contact required for the referee to call a foul. This issue was reflected by the referee declaring with 8 minutes to play that he “was not going to call every chicken-s**t foul”. As the match wound down, Stratford was able to adjust to the permitted level of physical contact with better passing. Jack Manke got off a long shot with 14 minutes to play that was high and Tommaso Maule managed a shot with 3 minutes left from the left side that was wide. The game ended with Stratford taking the loss 3 – 0.
So overall it was a good week for the Spartans as they got into the win column after a series of ties or losses in previous outings. The regular season gets off to a start with an away game against Spring Woods on January 14 th at 7:30pm. See you at the Pitch!