North County Battalion will head to San Bernardino on Saturday night to take on So Cal Sports Club in the first ever National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) match for both sides. If you can’t make the trip, you can watch the match LIVE or on-demand via the North County Battalion YouTube channel. Here are three of the most intriguing storylines heading into the historic weekend.
1. The Glory of the Opening Goal
Soccer is the ultimate team sport, but it’s also built on the thrill of individual glory. Whichever player it is who scores the first goal of the match for the Battalion on Saturday, he will be etching himself into the history books, forever to be known as the man who scored the first competitive goal in club history. The exact same could be said for So Cal SC.
While most players will tell you that the first goal will come naturally, as a product of quality team play, there is not a single player for either side that wouldn’t want to be known as the man who authored the first passage in the official score book.
And while nearly every manager in the world would tell you that pressing for that opening goal is a recipe for ample frustration, the thought of seeing that big 0 on the board for thirty, sixty, or heaven forbid ninety minutes is one that can weigh heavy on moral and test a team’s collective mental fortitude.
To put it lightly, the Battalion want no part in that particular test. They want to score early and often on Saturday. Esteban Reyes scored a delightful virtuoso goal last weekend in the team’s 2-2 draw with Temecula FC, their final tune-up before the regular season. An over head flick was followed by a deft second touch toward goal, and an assertion of pace as he flew past his defender and cracked a left footed finish low and to the far post from 15 yards out. Look out for Reyes to do it again on Saturday when it truly counts, and notch that special first NPSL goal for North County.
- Life Without Cheezi & Sergio
Winger and forward Adam Meltz (affectionately known as “Cheezi” by his teammates) is one of the Battalion’s most dangerous attacking weapons. The former Manchester United youth product has the ability to ruin a defender’s night at the drop of a dime, and throughly enjoys doing so. Unfortunately, Meltz picked up a knee injury against Temecula and will not be playing for at least two more weeks. The Battalion are hopeful to get him back by the April 16th home match vs. Albion Pro’s, but will surely be cautious in bringing him back into full team action.
The Battalion are also without Sergio Ortiz, who scored the opening goal of the Temecula match on a gorgeous first-time chip (off of a pinpoint assist from none other than Adam Meltz) before picking up a knock in the second half. If all goes well, Ortiz will be back for the home opener on April 9th.
There are plenty of players that can bring a similar level of excitement and audacity to the fold in San Bernardino. But who? Who will be the guys to pick up for lost flair, and provide that much needed element of improvisation to be balanced with a tightly organized game-plan?
- Back Line Stability
Connor Mazolewski, Sean Ritchey, and Brent Zuniga are all in the conversation for the two starting center-back spots against So Cal SC. However, Ritchey may be sidelined with a knee injury he picked up during the Temecula match (yes, another injury from the final tune-up), leaving Head Coach Ryan Guy with an important decision to make. If Ritchey is fully healthy by Saturday, which the team hopes he will be, he is the front runner to get the start alongside either Mazolewski or Zuniga. While Ritchey and Zuniga have a cohesive partnership established, having played together multiple times in their careers, the 6’2 Mazolewski has proven himself to be incredibly strong in the air, something the team needs out of their central defenders in what Guy called “an often long ball heavy league”.
“There are some great players in this league, and I wish every team played attractive soccer and attacked through possessing the ball in the midfield,” said Guy earlier this week. “It would make for great excitement. But the fact of the matter is, some teams are gonna try to beat us through the air, and we better be ready to defend those attempts at all times.”
North County Battalion @ So Cal SC
WHEN: 6 PM, Saturday April 2nd