Albion Pros put three points in the bag in their National Premier Soccer League season opener on Saturday night. Last season’s Southwestern Conference champions came away with a comprehensive 4-1 victory at Mission Bay High School over Oxnard Guerreros, the expansion club from Ventura County playing in their first competitive match.
“I thought we had great energy tonight,” said Albion Head Coach Ziggy Korytoski following the win. “We got into a good rhythm, and I’m happy with the team’s performance.”
Two goals from the red hot David Luquen and a goal apiece for Amani Walker and Kuba Waligorski saw Albion win a match that was by no means a sure bet, especially at the conclusion of the first half.
After Luquen opened the scoring with a low blast from inside a traffic filled eighteen yard box in the 6th minute, Walker made it 2-0 in the 25th with an cheeky dink past Oxnard goalkeeper Alfredo Lira after a perfectly timed run, narrowly beating the offside trap to get on a lofted ball over the top of the backline.
The home side looked ready to put it in cruise control for the rest of the night, but straight from the ensuing kickoff, the warriors showed their fighting spirit.
After the initial chance had gone begging, Raul Yepez thumped a low drive into the bottom corner past Albion netminder Jean Antoine. It was a glorious moment of history for Oxnard Guerreros and their handful of traveling fans. Yepez will forever be known as the man who scored the first competitive goal in club history.
A second goal for the visitors nearly came just before the halftime whistle, Antoine being put in an unorthodox spot on two separate occasions in added time. The Haitian Sensation showed his strong hands though, and the teams returned to the dressing rooms on a 2-1 scoreline.
“We lost our concentration a bit after our second goal,” Korytoski said of the wild two goal sequence midway through the first half. “But we refocused things, got ourselves back in order at the break, and I thought the performance in the second half was outstanding from our guys.”
The bit of momentum picked up by Oxnard was quickly erased after the restart. Luquen doubled his tally by converting from the penalty spot, his powerful right-footed drive sending Lira the wrong way before rippling the north endzone net at Mission Bay in the 53rd minute.
Waligorski got on the end of a lovely whipped service from Luis Cardona just four minutes later, as Korytoski’s histrionics were visible from just about everywhere in the stadium, the Albion Head Coach not willing to see his team again let a two goal lead turn to a single goal advantage the way it did in the first half.
The headed finish from the Polish defender came after a gorgeous piece of training ground material, Oxnard falling victim to a well worked short corner routine that saw Cardona dribble away from the byline before bending his cross back into the area, Waligorski making a darting run towards the near post and heading past Lira who could do nothing to stop the effort.
Waligorski gave a complete effort for the home side, anchoring the backline as customary Albion captain Luke Staats was left with nothing more than a late substitute appearance.
Albion, now 1-0-0 on the 2017 NPSL campaign, will head north next Sunday to take on Riverside Coras in their next match, Coras coming off a 6-0 thrashing of City of Angels FC.
“We need to stick to our principles next week,” Korytoski said of the away day in Riverside. “Coras are a very good team, a talented team that last year gave us some problems when we played them. We need to stay organized and stay disciplined. I think it’s gonna be a good game, and a great experience for us to get out on the road and show that we can have the same level of success that we have here in San Diego.”
Oxnard Guerreros, (0-0-1) will travel east to Mesa, Arizona for a battle of expansion sides as they take on FC Arizona next Saturday night. It will be the second consecutive all-expansion affair for FC Arizona, who played to a scoreless draw at home against Orange County FC in their season opener.
The evening at Mission Bay High School was about much more than just the happenings between the lines. At the conclusion of the match, the Albion players and fans joined Korytoski in a stirring tribute to Albion player and local youth coach Oscar Ortega, who was recently diagnosed with stage 2 cancer.
“You have a hell of a fight ahead of you,” Korytoski said to Ortega, “and you aren’t going through that fight alone. Your teammates, your coaches, these fans, and the people of San Diego are going to be with you 100% of the way.”
With his teammates standing right behind him, Ortega then said a few words of his own to the Albion faithful.
“I’m here because I love you all,” said Ortega, “and I want you all to know that I’m gonna beat this.”
(Use the hashtag #OStrong on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to learn more on how you can help Oscar Ortega in his fight against cancer.)