2023-04-01 – Maryland
Maryland Bobcats away. I’ve never been to an away game before, so what better chance was there than to follow Flower City Union to Maryland for their opening game of the NISA 2023 season? We’ve previewed what we think about FCU’s upcoming season, but the fact is, both these teams are mostly brand new. It was hard to know exactly what to expect going into the game, and we were just hoping to get this season off to a better start than last year.
Meeting all the players and coaches before the game at the hotel, it’s easy to see there’s already a team camaraderie. All the players were hanging out in the parking lot, they didn’t even seem to be in cliques, just all laughing and talking together. I got to speak to head coach Jordan Sullivan about the team, and he confirmed it. When asked whether it’s difficult to get together a new team that’s never played together, he said “culturally, they all clicked immediately”. He said we should “give them some time though” as on the field every day they’re learning to gel more as a team. However, when I asked if the playoffs were a realistic goal, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation; he immediately replied “definitely”. And I think that should be our aspiration this year. Tonight was the first time they took the field in a professional match, but if they’re learning to gel on the field like they have off the field, it’s going to be a good season.
While the day was sunny but windy, it quickly changed to rain and thunder shortly before kickoff. Last season the Bobcats averaged around 1,000, however it appears as if a rain and lightning delay kept the crowd much smaller than that. Speaking with a member of the Old Bae Brigade, the Bobcats supporters group, he confirmed that no one really knows what to expect this season. They’ve seen a lot of turnover, so it’s yet to be seen on the field how they will be. While he was incredibly friendly, he also warned us that we were in an area we probably shouldn’t be once the game starts, as the fans were quite vocal in their taunting to visiting teams. It’s great that a team in this league has this sort of passionate support, and you can see that online from the group’s social media banter with opposing clubs.
Thanks to an hour of rain and lightning prior to kick off, the game was delayed to a 7:45 start. And a strongly blowing wind meant it was going to be an interesting night. A nice cross 4 minutes into the game should have put a Maryland player into the box with a nice chance, when instead the wind sent the ball out about a quarter of the way down the field on the opposite side. The first chance of the game came two minutes later, and was a similar chance, when a pass went far from where it was supposed to be. It landed right to the foot of a different Maryland player, who put it just wide of the post. The wind was the third team on the field tonight, as any time the ball was put too high, it just kept going.
FCU saw their first real chance within 15 minutes, as a nice pass sent it over the final defender, but it was chipped just over the goal by Luke Fereira. Not two minutes later a bullet pass to Opoku was taken off the chest, but the Bobcats keeper had come out to brilliantly save and keep it level at 0. A slow start saw us finally starting to settle in and pick at the Bobcats defense. The wind died down at the perfect moment where the Bobcats had their first real chance, easily putting it directly into keeper Mejia’s hands.
It was definitely a testy first half, as it began to get physical with fouls going both ways. I’m not a fan of their way of taunting, but I can’t deny that the Old Bae Brigade brought an atmosphere to the small stadium, and must have tested all of FCU’s nerves. The 35th minute finally saw some sloppy play in defense, and the Bobcats carried it right through the middle and easily slotted it into the bottom corner of the net, against a keeper who didn’t stand a chance. While the Bobcats led at the half, chances were about even, so it wasn’t as if they deserved their lead.
The second half saw everyone getting exasperated with the performance of the refs. Calls were dubious, and seemingly random, culminating in the game’s first yellow card to Cartagena in a play that wasn’t even near the worst foul for either side. It’s never a defense to complain about the quality of refereeing, as it’s something both teams have to deal with, but there were some heated fouls that could have seen the game boil over. The ref then spent the rest of the half calling everything a foul and constantly pausing play.
The second half saw more possession by FCU, however they didn’t create many chances in the final third. The only real attempt by FCU came on a nice free kick that just cleared all the players to go out past the post, but that was about it for the entire half. The best chance for either team came in the 85th minute when the Bobcats sent a rocket off the bar from 30 yards out. The second half was mostly played in the middle of the pitch, without much created either way, even after making multiple changes.
So what players stood out to me? Kyle Nelson in the back did what he could against the wind. He used his feet and head to pull down balls across the middle, and while the first goal came on his watch, his overall performance stood out to me. Prior to the match, I’d wondered who the captain would be, and assumed it would be one of the returning players. However, Kwesele seemed to be a great choice. It’s noticeable that he’s always at the back, vocally telling players where to be, and doing his best to lead. Diahkate was picked to be the best player on the team, and one of the best in the league, however he was largely negated. The combination of wind and Maryland’s defense meant he barely touched the ball, however I can’t talk bad about his hustle, as when he made a run, he really poured on the speed. I really liked the look of Elias, he was all over the middle, constantly fighting for balls and throwing his body into it, skillfully navigating the fine line of stealing the ball without getting a foul. Cunningham down the left side also had a good game, carrying the ball down the wing and into the box along the touchline a few times.
A 1-0 loss was a disappointing start, as it seemed like a draw would have been a fair result. However, it is definitely not a loss to feel too badly about. The team was much stronger than they were last year. Given time, they’ll get better about playing together, and cut down on a lot of errant passes. The team returns to play on Tuesday at home in the US Open Cup. It’s a game to look forward to, as that’s definitely one we can win to get our team on the right track.
7:00pm kickoff (lightning delayed to 7:45)
Climate: 50 degrees, windy, rain
3 Kyle Nelson
4 Josue Cartagena
7 Michael Cunningham
9 Alioune Diahkate 82′
Subbed by Calfo
10 Luke Fereira 70′
Subbed by Sanchez
13 Michael Mejia
17 Noah Cavanaugh
19 Frederick Opoku 70′
Subbed by Stewart
20 Malik Shaheed
23 Stephen Elias
31 Mumbi Kwesele (C)
Yellow cards: Cartagena 53’, Nelson 68’, Cavanaugh 79’
Final Score: 1-0 L
Club reported: 1,014