Electric. Emotional. Intense. Spellbinding. Relentless. Controversial. Passionate. Fiery. Mesmerizing.
The battle for the top spot in the Southwest Conference of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) was a tightly contested affair between the North County Battalion and Albion Pros. The San Diego Derby game lived up to the hype, with Albion Pros claiming a 3-1 win on the road.
As you can imagine, the rivalry was on full blast for the NPSL National Game of the Week. More than 1,000 fans came to Del Norte High School to watch the San Diego Derby (pronounced “DAR-BE”), affectionately being referred to as the #CraftBeerCup. The North County Battalion fans, clad in all black, brought the noise with a full drum set, mega phone and hundreds of boisterous fans to spur the home team on. However, Albion Pros’ fans and their official supporters group The Deep End were not to be outdone.
The first half whistle blew. NC Battalion came out firing and pressured Albion from the first minute. The Pros couldn’t get out of their own half as they gave the ball away often in the early going. NC Battalion had its first chance when a filtered ball went through to left winger Esteban Reyes who flashed a cross in. Albion goalkeeper Jean Antoine acrobatically secured the ball, but it was foreshadowing for what was to come.
Reyes got on the ball early and often to create chances for the team in black. Then in the 10th minute, Reyes found himself at the top of the box with the ball at his feet and space to shoot. Curling a driven ball towards goal, the ball took a fortuitous bounce just in front of the outstretched dive of Jean Antoine. The home crowd went wild with excitement. Chants of “It only took ten minutes” poured in and just like that GK Jean’s shutout streak ended at 190 minutes. 1-0 for NC Battalion.
The shell-shocked Albion remained on their heels as NC Battalion pressed for a second goal. Luckily for the Pros, a handful of chances fired wide and over the net. It took until the 25th minute for Albion to gain any possession and get out of their half. In the 30th minute, star Honduran centerback Ricky McKenzie had to limp off the field with a groin strain. Kainoa Owens replaced him and immediately made his presence known, earning a yellow for a hard foul on the sideline. That’s about the time the tide started to change in the game.
Albion Pros started to grab a foothold in the game and crafted a for sure goal only to be saved off the goal line by a defender’s face. Felipe Liborio put in an early cross that the Battalion GK dropped to the feet of Tre Hayes who fired a shot towards goal. CB Justin Picou was luckily covering for his goalie and took the shot to the face and denied the equalizer.
Albion continued to press and harass the back line of Battalion. In the 42nd minute Albion got their equalizer when they won the ball at the halfway line from an errant pass. Liborio took the ball from right back Jose Merlo, fed the ball to Douglas Andrade who played the ball into a streaking David Luquen. Luquen weaved through the heart of the defense, then made a brilliant cut to his left as the defender closed him down. The keeper took the bait and went with the fake, exposing the entirety of his goal for Luquen to tap one in for the equalizer. 1-1 at the half.
[quote_box_center]“This result means now we’re the team to beat, we’re top of the table. Our performance, after the first 20 minutes, was fantastic with guys rising to the challenge. I think we’ve won over a lot of San Diego fans. We’re here to stay. We are San Diego.” – Albion Pros Coach Ziggy Korytoski [/quote_box_center]
Albion Pros kept the momentum in the second half and heavily pressured every Battalion pass. They repeatedly gathered stray passes and launched swift counterattacks. However, they couldn’t get the ball into the net despite dominating possession and shots. That changed in the 59th minute with the NC Battalion goalkeeper gift wrapping a golden opportunity to Tre Hayes. NC Battalion were keeping possession along the backline with Albion pressed with a high line, waiting to pounce on a poor pass. The NC Battalion goalkeeper tried to clear a backpass but fired it straight at the massive 6’3” frame of Hayes. Tre Hayes made no mistake and punished the error calmly slotted the ball into the net to make it 2-1 for the visitors.
Suddenly the Battalion fans were silent and the visitors side erupted with jubilation. Albion Pros had deservedly earned the goal, but Battalion fans couldn’t believe they were now down after starting so strong. Albion continued to barrage the Battalion goal with relentless attacks. Luquen, Andrade, and especially Liborio should have extended the lead with shots that rolled just past the wrong side of the post. Just eight minutes later Matt Clare stepped up to a free kick from 25+ yards out close to the visiting team bench.
Instructed by Head Coach Ziggy Korytoski to have a go at goal, Clare rifled a shot into the left side of the goal past the hapless goalie. 3-1 Albion Pros in the 68th minute.
[quote_box_center]“We really had to grind it out. We trained hard all week and weren’t going to let a game like this go. We came out as a big group, as a family and got the result I feel we deserved.” -Man of the Match Felipe Liborio [/quote_box_center]
Already a heated match, Midfielder Luis Cardona added fuel to an already hot fire. With 15 minutes left to play, Cardona made a bone crunching challenge on player-coach Ryan Guy that earned him a straight red card. A scuffle between the two teams ensued with tempers rising to fever pitch. Albion would be reduced to 10 men for the rest of the match and offered a glimmer of hope for Battalion to claw their way back into the game.
Battalion started to use their numerical advantage to create some chances with crosses and shots from distance. However, their shots flew over the cross bar or wide of their mark. Substitute Oscar Ortega was then given his marching orders in the dying minutes of the game for two soft yellow cards, with the second being earned for time wasting. Another glimmer of hope for NC Battalion, but there wasn’t enough time left to make Albion Pros pay for their lack of disciple. It was an entertaining, feisty match between the top two teams in the league and their boisterous supporters. Exactly the type of atmosphere that San Diego soccer fans have been hoping for.
Albion Pros win 3 – 1 on the road against NC Battalion to claim San Diego, the top spot in the league, and bragging rights until the next meeting May 21st at Mission Bay High School Stadium. The Craft Beer Cup rivalry is brewing!