Last Sunday was the season opener for this Spring’s UPSL season. Sunday’s match was against the Sahara Gunners, who are a new side to the league. Both teams were coming into the game with something to prove. Roc City Boom wanted to show that they were here to make it four in a row. While on the other hand, the Gunners came to prove that they could succeed as newcomers.
I arrived a few hours before kickoff just so I could get a look around the area and soak up everything that went into a matchday. Around 2 pm, players and staff started to trickle in and began setting everything up, from the pirate-themed bouncy castle to the advertisement banners.
Then at about 3 pm the players began to warm up and that’s when I headed up to the press box to meet up with Evan and Jason, the commentators for the game, and Joel, the camera operator for the Roc City Boom, who all did remarkable job of adding to the experience.
Around 150 people were in attendance. While I’d love to see that number increase, it’s a strong start to the season. Drums could be heard throughout the match as the relatively small crowd still packed in the atmosphere.
The 2-2 draw was disappointing from a Boom perspective and the performance underwhelmed at times. After the match, goal scorer Anthony Rozzano said, “That’s probably the worst soccer I’ve seen us play in a first half in two years.” I have to agree with him that it was poor and the Sahara Gunners took advantage. They played with a solid press and just outworked the returning champions for the whole first half and parts of the second.
When I asked Anthony what he thought could have caused such a poor performance he said, ”We just came off our indoor season so a lot of our guys took the last week to kinda de-stress from their season and honestly with the quick turn around you can shut down mentally a little bit.” That did seem to be the case as the players looked relaxed and not fully focused.
The first big event in the match happened early in the first half at the 8th minute. Josiah Fragnito was through on goal and the Sahara Gunners keeper Callum Christi came off his line, taking Fragnito down on the edge of the box. This arguably should have been a straight red as the net would have been left open and he denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity. When asked about the incident head coach Marc Mandell said, “Yeah, I mean, it was definitely [close] but I’ve learned no matter how often you argue with the refs, they’re not going to change their mind, but I give them credit. They have a hard job, so he made the right call.”
The Sahara Gunner’s opening goal followed when Garrett Delves grabbed a Sahara Gunners player’s jersey and threw him to the floor a couple of yards outside the Boom box. In the free kick that followed, the taker Zak Shabi for the Gunners whipped a cross into the box that Kee Doe met with his head, knocking the ball off the inside of the post and into the net.
The Boom was able to get an equalizer in the first half when Joe Balls engineered a brilliant solo goal. Balls received the ball a bit over the halfway line and proceeded to spin his man, ran through the Sahara half before taking a strike outside the box that flew into the top corner of Callum Christie’s net. It was amazing execution by Joe Balls and just what the Boom needed before the end of the half.
Then in the 63rd minute, the Gunners retook the lead after Haryana Thomas stormed down the field after a giveaway from Anthony Rozzano. With Rozzano not able to track back in time, Thomas approached the box and played a simple pass to Zak Shabi in the box, who was left free to slam the ball into the back of the net by a fallen Boom defender. This goal was emblematic of some of the Boom’s struggles on the day.
Finally, in the dying seconds of the game, the Boom were given a lifeline. Dan Reger played a long ball over the top to Anthony Rozzano, who made up for his previous mistake by chipping the ball calmly over the keeper’s head to save a point for the Boom.
Overall, though the Boom were not their best on this day, I expect them to come out strong in their next match on Sunday, April 23, against RNYFC Academy. This coming match will be the only Rochester derby that the Boom has this season, which is all the more reason to come down to Eastridge Senior High School to watch.
Interview with Konrad Zydowicz
Q: First game of the season against the Sahara Gunners, what are we thinking today?
A: First game of the season, we want to come out firing and show out for the home fans and win is always the expectation, it doesn’t really matter who we play we have the same mindset.
Interview with Roc City Boom manager, Marc Mandell
Q: First game of the season Sahara Gunners, what are we thinking?
A: First games are always tough because you haven’t had much time to get together and practice and a lot of guys are still in College so we’ll see who shows up to play and rely on our veteran leadership and then towards the end of the game try to work in a couple of the new guys and see how the fitness level is but it should be a great matchup. They’ve played maybe 12 or 13 scrimmages so far so they’re prepared for us I’m just hoping we’re prepared for them.
Q: So what are the goals this season? Going for number four I imagine?
A: The plan is number four and the plan is to win the division again and get farther in the playoffs. That is our goal every year is to go a little bit farther than we did last year and to push ourselves and see how far we can go, but yeah, it’d be nice to go home with another division championship.
Interview with Sahra Gunners coach, Kabura Elias
Q: What are your expectations for the game today?
A: My expectations for the game today are whoever has the best game today is going to win. To be honest with you, I know my side is ready to go. I know my side is not going to back down from a fight so the expectations are very high. I want them to come out competitive and I want them to not back down no matter what kind of circumstances we’re in. I don’t know what the other team has got for us but what I know for sure is that they’re going to have to bleed to be able to beat us.
Q: So what are your long-term expectations for the season?
A: To stay as a group, stay compact, and if something goes wrong you need to stay compact. We can’t let the score ruin our rhythm and if we do that, we will have a great season.
Interview with Roc City Boom manager, Marc Mandell
Q: A 2-2 draw with two late equalizing goals at the end of each half, why not a win today?
A: Well, I think that we came out very lazy today, we didn’t have a good training on Thursday. Everything was kind of relaxed. [Sahara Gunners] showed today that they’re hungry so they fought for every ball and even with some of their guys fasting for Ramadan, they just wanted it more. We were fortunate enough to rebound and show some resilience at the end with a last couple-minute goal but other than that… I’m not taking anything away from them. They played great, their team played really well. So we’ll just focus on this week and prepare for RNYFC next weekend cause if we play like we did today we’re gonna get smoked by RNYFC.
Q: What exactly do you think can really change though?
A: Well I mean we’re missing Peter DiLorenzo today who’s one of our top goal scorers and we still got some other guys who are still in college that we’re waiting on. The defense as well we had some guys who couldn’t make it cause of injuries and stuff, Luca was on the roster today but couldn’t play because of an injury so we’ll look to rebound this week and hopefully defend the home turf. At least we didn’t get a loss at home yet so we need to continue that.
Q: Earlier in the second half when the goalie came out and took out a player, he kind of looked like the last man and it was only a yellow card, what are your thoughts on that?
A: Yeah, I mean, it was definitely [close] but I’ve learned no matter how often you argue with the refs, they’re not going to change their mind, but I give them credit. They have a hard job, so he made the right call.
Interview with Anthony Rozzano
Q: You scored a great goal there at the end of the game, but what are your thoughts on the game as a whole?
A: That’s probably the worst soccer I’ve seen us play in the first half in 2 years. We had no energy, no intensity, no communication, nothing that was terrible. We were tied one to one luckily at the end of the half and then in the second half we let them score unlucky but also a decent goal on their end then we came back and I found myself making a big diagonal run across the field from left back and Dan Reger picked up his head picked me out and threw one behind them took a little bounce chipped it over the goalie and got an equalizer with a minute or two left. It’s okay from a result perspective. I mean we obviously wanted the three points but I mean getting one point from how terribly we played is not great but okay.
Q: Why do you think it was so bad in the first half?
A: Honestly, I think we just came off our indoor season so a lot of guys just took the last week to destress from the season and you know the quick turn you can kind of shut down mentally a little bit. But we got a jump start into a round two season and I don’t think we were mentally ready, but once we got punched in the face a couple of times we light back up and went forward.
Q: Do you think missing DiLorenzo could have been a factor today?
A: Who’s DiLorenzo? I’m kidding, yeah Pete is a big presence. He’s got a big head on him so it’s good to throw some balls into the box so we can get some headers going and he’s a vocal leader on this team and I’ve known him for many many years. I love the guy. He’s a good guy and a good guy to have around for team morale, so it will obviously be good to get him back in the roster and get a good-looking team out there.
Q: Finally, next week we play RNYFC, the only other Rochester team. Gonna make sure Rochester is blue?
A: Absolutely, that’s a must-win game just like any of these are, but I can’t see us playing any worse than we did today which is the good news