The Kickers first team—embodying the "WE ARE NOT BRAZIL" graphic on their sharp new kits—played a toothless first half against FC Ulqini, holding an 80/20 possession advantage, but lacking any real flair or creativity in the attacking half, and went down 0-2 on two sloppy counter attacks.
After a spirited halftime speech, the Kickers found a will to score goals in the second half and maintained composure as the opposition continued to commit aggressive fouls, earning themselves two red cards in the process. Off of what seemed like the 20th corner kick of the game, Tommy Fitz headed a ball back toward the middle which James Z nodded into the net to cut the lead in half. A while later, a ball that slipped under the goalkeeper was poked in by Khriswayne crashing the net from center defense. And finally, Shaiem was taken down in the box in the final few minutes and Matias calmly slotted the PK home to win the game 3-2 for the Kickers, and brought a bit of relief to a mostly frustrating afternoon.
In an important match to maintain the top position of the league the Kickers reserves took some time finding their rhythm and took on early pressure from Ulqini’s wide attackers. Early in the first half Ulqini found their way into the 18 from a wide position and scored first. It was a real wake up call for the Kickers as they responded shortly after with a goal by Andrew off a great cross into the box from Lukas. The Kickers planned on continuing the second half how they ended the first, however a poorly defended throw resulted in a Ulqini goal off an unstoppable shot outside the box. The Kickers again equalized quickly when Almir got the ball up top, held off two defenders, and laid it of into the box for an inspired #10, Antonio, to round the goalie and score within the tightest of angles. With 25 minutes left to play in the second half, the Ref called a questionable handball against the Kickers providing Ulqini with their third goal. With the top position on the line, the last 20 minutes was a dog fight. The midfield trio were able to make important connections and help the play move in the Kickers favor. In the dying minutes of the game, Gio found himself with the ball in the opposition’s box and with Inesta like calmness, finessed the Kickers third goal. A vital goal keeping the reserves title hopes alive.
Today was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Kickers started a man down until the 15th minute. By this point Celtic had found the back of the net once. Celtic would break down the Kickers and find the net four more times before the half-time. The one bright spot for the Kickers was newcomer Dimitar Belchev that brought some much needed ball control and toughness to the center of the park.
Khouri Mullings (MVP) made a heart felt half-time speech, challenging the players to have some pride and lift themselves up to the standard we know we can play. The Kickers responded and Khouri lead the way scoring the first goal for the Kickers in the 65th minute. Ardian Hasko would add another in the 75th minute. The defense and Fitzgerald (in spite of playing with a partial torn achillies) kept Celtic off the score board in the second half. Not our best game, but a spirited 2nd half for a squad that has been struggling all season.
Kickers Legends sealed the pole position in the O-39 Division table with two games in hand, beating fourth placed Manhattan Celtic Masters 5-0 as a statement of intent for the June playoffs.
Learning from the 2-2 result from the last time they met, Kickers Legends took a more aggressive approach and formation from the start to finish, which paid off famously. Things looked tight for the first 20 minutes as both sides had chances, and Masters looked closer to going ahead when Ulrich palmed a shot into the path of an open Masters forward who, fortunately, skied his first touch attempt.
Dan Segelin, playing in central attacking position, ran the Masters midfield ragged, bossed his territory with his energy and control, helping Kickers take the game for long periods into the Masters' half. The break came around the 25th minute when Wale carried the ball into the box, spotted Joe unattended in front of goal, and laid it off for him to finish emphatically. Half time came with Kickers in front by one, though with strong indications of the deluge that was to come. And come it did. First Ari stringed together a series of passes to carve up the Masters for his own neatly placed goal. Then Scotti got into the act, dribbling past 3 Masters defenders from the left into a one on one position, to generously pass to Ari to finish. I think Scotti was involved in the fourth as well, this time to Dylan. Then it was Slover's turn to slalom past (the same?) 3 Masters defenders on the right to loft clinically onto Dylan's head, which he headed in with a big grin for the fifth. It was all around a great performance by everyone.
If this was Europe, Legends would have been celebrating winning the league. But instead, will have to beat two of the top four again to claim the Championship.