There are plenty of ways to describe the inaugural NPSL season for the North County Battalion. It is safe to say that “boring” would not be one of them.
The Battalion have scored 17 goals in 8 league games. They’ve also conceded 15. However, it’s been more than just the goals. Even the Battalion’s single scoreless match of the season (the second San Diego Derby against Albion that saw the two sides share the spoils) was an enthralling end to end affair. There is a distinct style of soccer being played by the Battalion in 2016, and while it may make the coaching staff pull their hair out at times, it is one that delightful to watch.
This past Sunday in Thousand Oaks, the Battalion defeated FC Hasental 4-3 in one of the most exciting matches of the season. Esteban Reyes scored twice, (one of the goals coming on a corner after Reyes had missed a penalty just seconds prior) and now leads the team with five goals in the league.
“Esteban has been electric all season long,” said Battalion Head Coach Ryan Guy. “He continues to earn everything he gets on the field, and he’s garnering the respect of the masses.”
Reyes, who turned 20 the week of the team’s opening match in April, is a force to be reckoned with and will continue to be a focal point of the Battalion attack as the NPSL playoffs near.
Recent signing Asher Booth has been a welcomed addition to the squad. Booth scored on his NPSL debut, netting the fourth goal against Hasental in the 88th minute. What looked like icing on the cake when it hit the net, the goal ended up being crucial as Los Conejos got one back in stoppage time. The goal was Booth’s second since joining the team (the first coming in a friendly versus Chula Vista FC), and it was one of professional quality, an exquisite finish at a tight angle from close range after a perfectly timed run, assisted by none other than Esteban Reyes.
Booth is a 19-year-old from Westmont College, and he has certainly endeared himself to his new teammates this summer. James Stroud, Justin Picou, and a few other Battalion players had the exact same quote at the conclusion of the Hasental match in regards to Booth.
“I like this guy.”
How could you not like this guy? He threw on a Battalion shirt, went up top, and started scoring goals. Welcome to the club, young man.
Eric Lopez has been another shining star this season for this team, twice nominated and once winning the NPSL National Player of the Week award (the win coming after the Battalion scored four against Hasental the first time around, a 4-2 win back in April, the Battalion’s home opener). He has tallied three goals, but his energy has been the true marvel, including the most recent match where he was all over the park for 90 minutes. Easily one of the fastest players in the southwest conference, Lopez has worked tirelessly this season, and has exhibited a work rate that has the coaching staff hopes can continue to spread around the squad.
“He gives you everything he’s got”, said his Head Coach. “There’s a motor that’s always running with Eric. I want to help him a little with using his gears, but that’s something you can definitely teach. You can’t teach an engine to be a better engine. He’s blessed with speed, and he’s always working hard.”
There was a joyous mood around the squad in the hours and days that followed the 4-3 win in Thousand Oaks. But the attacking football that the fans love so much can most certainly bring its downer days. One of those days came on May 1st, against the very same team the Battalion will play this weekend.
That day started off so well for the NCB – two goals to the good against Temecula FC, at home on a mild Sunday afternoon. It was an end to end contest that was an absolute treat to watch, but it went from heavenly to hellish for the home team, the Battalion blowing that two goal lead and losing 3-2 on a late penalty from Santiago Warren, after the 19-year-old Temecula star went on an incredible full field run with the ball at his feet.
You often hear soccer commentators around the world use boxing analogies to describe various aspects of matches. An Italian performance at Euro 2016 may draw comparisons to a Muhammad Ali “rope-a-dope”. The average Battalion match is more comparable to the first round of Hagler v. Hearns circa 1985.
Whether it’s Ryan Guy, Paul Currie, or the any of the men that make up the Battalion coaching staff, a “slugfest” is not necessarily in their best interests. The team has actually done a decent job at fixing some of the defensive issues that plagued them early in the season, and rest assured they are continuing to do so with every match and training session. But maybe slugfests suit the Battalion just fine.
We are all anxious to see how the team plays this Saturday at Temecula. It will be the first and only time (at least in the regular season) that the Battalion will play a game on natural grass. How that plays into the attacking style remains to be seen. The heavy wind and narrow pitch at Temecula will also play a key role in the strategic set up.
Most of all, the Battalion players are out for retribution, and it must come in the form of three valuable points. You must have a short memory to make it in this game, possessing the ability to quickly move on from heartbreak and approach the next task with just as much tenacity, if not more than the last one. However, certain memories linger, and stay etched on the brain. The 3-2 loss to Temecula is certainly one of those memories.
“We need to get those guys back,” said James Stroud. “That game was a crazy one. It was a game we should have won. There’s only one way to make up for that.”
Kickoff is at 5:30 PM on Saturday, and whether it’s a slugfest or not, there will surely be excitement. After all, it is the Battalion.
NC Battalion will be streaming the match live here.