Just once, I’d like to go to a League1 game with decent weather.
This weekend’s match between Master’s Futbol and hosts Aurora FC – both winless through their first three contests of the season – wasn’t quite as cold as the previous two I’d been to, but there was still a good chill in the air, rain for the first ten minutes of each half, and a brisk north wind that both teams had to contend with throughout the match.
The first half started off with great energy from Aurora – amazing amounts of offensive pressure resulted in a few giveaways by the Master’s defense and a number of chances for Aurora forwards Chris Jacovou and Jordan Kalk; the latter nearly stealing the ball off Master’s keeper Gregory Cha in the first minute, while being just out a reach of a feet-first lunge a few minutes later off a lovely cross from Jacovou on the right wing. The home side was unlucky not to get on the scoreboard, and even unluckier to concede a penalty only a few minutes later; a Master’s cross from the right side would ricochet off the arm of an Aurora defender inside the box as it crossed in front, only to be booted into the back of the net a second after the whistle was blown. While technically correct, it wasn’t the most convincing penalty I’ve ever seen, and I can easily imagine some referees telling the players to get on with it and putting the whistle away. Fortunately for the visitors, Joey Melo (who scored 11 goals in 20 games for North Mississauga last year) would slot the ball low into the left corner of the net, past the diving Alexander Jakma to give Master’s an early 1-0 lead.
To Aurora’s credit, they didn’t let this setback get them down, and they still kept Master’s on their heels with some good offensive pressure until about the 15′ mark, when they started to let up. Interestingly, I noticed the same pattern in their season opener against Ottawa, and they gave up an early goal there as well. Both teams were more or less evenly matched for the rest of the half, and while Master’s probably had the upper hand in terms of possession, both teams had their fair share of dangerous chances. Master’s struck first; off a foul call for a high foot just outside Aurora’s penalty box, midfielder Maleik DeFreitas would expertly curve the ball into the bottom left corner of the net to give his side a 2-0 lead in the 31st minute.
This would set off a flurry of goal-scoring activity towards the end of the first half, as both teams would alternate goals to shift momentum between them. Aurora would answer back only two minutes later, as a free kick from almost the same field position as Master’s second goal would find the head of Jared Agyemang in front of the net; finding space between Master’s defender Eddy Dabire and keeper Gregory Cha ten yards out, he cut the deficit in half in the 33rd minute. Master’s wasn’t fazed, and roared back with some strong pressure and a few good chances against the Aurora net, and Joey Melo finally made it count with his second of the night from twenty yards out – only two minutes after Aurora’s first tally. This shot once again went into the bottom left corner – the third such goal of the night. Maybe Master’s has been doing their homework and found a chip in the armour?
You thought we were done with goals… we were not done with goals. Hot off a half-field goal kick, a return lob from Aurora found its way onto the feet of Jordan Kalk, who carried it down field past a few defenders and slid it past a diving Cha to once again bring the deficit down to one goal. The Master’s defense seemed a bit slow to respond to this play; it looked as if they were still mentally thinking in terms of offense after the goal kick, and weren’t able to adjust until Kalk was running past them. Aurora would have a wonderful chance to tie the match before halftime, as Master’s defender Marcus Malcom would earn a yellow for a trip just outside his box, but the resulting free kick would go well high and the score would remain a 3-2 lead for the visitors going into the half.
The cold rain came back with a vengeance at half time, and this slowed down both teams considerably for the first 20 minutes of the half. Nevertheless, a few good chances here: an intercepted pass from the Aurora keeper would find its way to Master’s Jose DeSousa in the 64th minute, but his effort would be just tipped and go out for a corner. Aurora would respond with a wonderful play from defender Michael Nitchov in the 67th, whose run virtually along the goal line to the left of the opponents net would end in a centering pass to an open Jordan Kalk about ten yards out, but a defender would swing in at the last minute to block his attempt. Kalk would have another chance on a breakaway only a few minutes later, but his pass to Jared Agyemang was miskicked and go high over the Masters’ net. The home team would finally make a breakthrough in the 74th minute, as Matthew Caguana would have a centering pass from the left side of the six yard box deflect off a sliding Master’s defender and into the net to tie the match at three-a-piece.
Aurora would nearly take the lead only two minutes later, as Jared Agyemang would get past Cha during a run down the right side, only for his go-ahead attempt to be blocked by a Master’s defender and go over the net. Master’s would find some extra energy over the last fifteen minutes and generate a fair number of chances to re-take the lead; Joey Melo had his 76th minute bid for a hat-trick denied as Jakma made a diving save to his right, and would be taken down in the box only a minute later, only to have his team’s calls for a penalty go unheeded. Substitute Nick Russo would create some space about 20 yards out only a few minutes before stoppage, only to have his shot sail over the net. Midfielder Kevin Dhillon had a chance three minutes into stoppage, as his shot from 20 yards out from the right after a corner was warded off by a diving Jakma. That looked to be the end of it, except for a lovely 25-yard top-corner shot from halftime sub Yasin Shahwan that Jakma could do nothing about. Master’s took the 4-3 lead four minutes into stoppage time that Aurora couldn’t reverse in their thirty seconds of possession before the final whistle.
This result had me a bit surprised; not the final result, mind you, but rather the final score. Master’s has been holding it together surprisingly well this year; they led the undefeated-in-four-matches Woodbridge Strikers at the 80 minute mark of their season opener, only falling there after an injury time goal; last year they suffered 5-0 and 4-0 losses. Similarly, their 2-0 loss to Vaughan last week can certainly be considered competitive (4-3 and 5-0 losses last year), so I was expecting a new-and-improved Master’s to dominate Aurora a bit more than they actually did. That being said, Aurora beat Master’s 1-0 and 4-2 in their two meetings last year, so we’re already seeing a change by that standard. Were their earlier scares against top teams like Vaughan and Woodbridge merely good fortune by Master’s, or have Aurora and Master’s raised their game to – if not necessarily challenge – at least avoid the lopsided scores we saw last year? Whatever the answer, League1 Ontario certainly seems more competitive this year, and we should be in for a good season of soccer as a result.
I was originally going to see North Toronto host Vaughan at Varsity Stadium this weekend, but changed my mind after learning that Robin Glover was going to be covering that match (be sure to check out his report when it comes out!). Aurora’s next match is home against the undefeated Woodbridge Strikers; May 27th at 7:00 pm. Can Aurora shake up the league with an upset? Why not come to the game and see for yourself? Meanwhile, Master’s will be aiming to kickstart a two-game winning streak against North Toronto at Varsity Stadium; May 28th at 4:30 pm. I’ll be taking a few weeks off again – my next game will be from McNaughton Park as the Vaughan Azzurri take on the Woodbridge Strikers; Saturday, June 10th at 3:30 pm. Come and join me – it should be a good one!
#1 – Alexander Jakma (GK) – YC (71′)
#2 – Michael Nitchov
#4 – Gianmariano Della Sera
#5 – Ukasha Zaighum
#6 – Frederick Ameyaw
#9 – Jared Agyemang – 1 Goal (33′) – Subbed off (87′)
#10 – Matthew Caguana – 1 Goal (74′)
#12 – Jackson Tooke – YC (21′) – Subbed off (60′)
#15 – Anu Makinwa – Subbed off (63′)
#16 – Chris Jacovou – Subbed off (80′)
#17 – Jordan Kalk – 1 Goal (40′)
#8 – Juliano Santia – Subbed on (60′)
#3 – Calvin Witzell – Subbed on (63′)
#11 – Dylan Rennie – Subbed on (80′)
#13 – Basel Rashrash – Subbed on (87′)
AURORA 3 : 4 MASTER’S
7′ GOAL (pen) – MAS #9 Joey Melo
31′ GOAL – MAS #20 Maleik DeFreitas
33′ GOAL – AUR #9 Jared Agyemang
35′ GOAL – MAS #9 Joey Melo
40′ GOAL – AUR #17 Jordan Kalk
74′ GOAL – AUR #10 Matthew Caguana
90+4′ GOAL – MAS #8 Yasin Shahwan
21′ YC – AUR #12
41′ YC – MAS #30
71′ YC – AUR #1
#99 – Gregory Cha (GK)
#2 – Shawn Brown – Subbed off (45′)
#30 – Marcus Malcom – YC (41′)
#16 – Dylan Micallef – Subbed off (56′)
#6 – Eddy Dabire
#3 – Ashton Hyde
#4 – Kevin Dhillon
#9 – Joey Melo – 2 Goals (7′ pen, 35′)
#20 – Maleik DeFreitas – 1 Goal (31′)
#70 – Jose DeSousa
#19 – Parker Danfi – Subbed off (71′)
#8 – Yasin Shahwan – 1 Goal (90+4′) – Subbed on (45′)
#13 – Nick Russo – Subbed on (56′)
#12 – Kristofer Michael – Subbed on (71′)