North County Battalion and Deportivo Coras will be battling one another in back to back games. That much is known. The first game will be tonight at Del Norte Stadium. The result of tonight’s game will determine where the second match will be held.
It’s the final regular season affair for both sides, who drew 1-1 in their previous meeting in Riverside back in April. The Battalion come into tonight’s game as the second place side in the NPSL Southwest conference, with Coras sitting just one point behind them in third. The teams are guaranteed to be matched up for the first round of the NPSL playoffs, but if Coras were to come to San Diego and leave with a win, that playoff match would see a return to Riverside for the Battalion. Anything but a loss for the Battalion, and the one-off knockout contest will be at Del Norte Stadium.
“We’ve got to get home field for that playoff game,” said Battalion goalkeeper James Stroud. “We owe it to our fans, and we owe it to ourselves.” The 1-1 draw was one of the most physical matches of the season, and saw the Battalion leave Riverside feeling quite harshly done by a controversial late penalty called against center back Justin Picou for a handball in the box leading to Shane Shelton equalizing in the 89th minute.
Here are five players to keep an eye on tonight, in what is sure to be a fiercely contested match between two hungry southwest sides.
Asher Booth, Forward, NC Battalion:
He’s been the adrenaline shot the Battalion needed. A mid-season acquisition, Booth has scored four goals in his first four NPSL games, and has provided the club with a youthful exuberance, upping the collective energy level, particularly when it comes to attacking and pressing opposing defenders when they are on the ball. At 19 years of age, he is the youngest man on an experienced Battalion team, but he plays with the maturity of a well-groomed veteran. He did not score against So Cal SC (a 2-0 win for the NC Battalion on Saturday night at Del Norte Stadium), but was present the whole night, getting involved in scoring movements and physical tussles alike, even getting his nose bloodied midway through the first half. In what is sure to be an intense, chippy, and physical match against Coras, look out for Booth. How will the young man respond? What will he bring to the table tonight?
Shane Shelton, Forward, Deportivo Coras:
Shane Shelton can be a thorn in the side of an opposing backline. He can be a pest, that type of forward defenders often hate playing against. At 6’1, he is strong in the air, and has no problem with throwing his body around. His penalty conversion on April 24th nabbed two crucial points away from the Battalion, and that has stayed etched on the minds of the boys from San Diego ever since. That heartbreaking draw was part of a three match winless streak for the Battalion, their roughest patch of the season. With his brother Cody a customary feature in the Coras starting lineup at center-back, Shane Shelton always looks comfortable doing what he does best, getting under the skin of his adversaries, and scoring goals. Along with Battalion center-backs Duach Jock and Justin Picou, Shane Shelton will be a pivotal figure in tonight’s drama.
Esteban Reyes, Midfielder/Forward, NC Battalion:
The 1-1 draw in Riverside back in late April was the first time that Esteban Reyes was held scoreless in the NPSL season. More than not scoring, it was far from his best game, as he was slowed down by an organized Coras defense, as well as the narrowest pitch in the league at Bobby Bonds Park, the makeshift home for Coras that night due to a scheduling conflict at UC Riverside. Reyes has been one of the most electric players in the entire conference this season, his six goals telling only part of the story. After playing the majority of the season as a forward, occasionally dropping to a winger role, Head Coach Ryan Guy has pushed Reyes more central, allowing him to play a true maestro role, fitting for the number 10 on the back of his jersey. Coras like to keep things tight in the middle of the park, meaning time will truly be of the essence when Reyes is on the ball. He will need to be quick, both with his mind and his feet, if he is to be successful tonight, and help the Battalion secure that valuable home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Fernando Cabello, Defender, Deportivo Coras:
Cabello is one of the best center-backs in the southwest conference. He commands attention, standing 6 feet 2 inches with a head of long curly hair. He soars when going up for aerial challenges, and leaves a thud like sound echoing in your mind when going in for sliding challenges at the feet of his opponents. He has scored three times for Coras this season, two of those coming in their opening two matches. His attacking presence on set pieces is clear. Funny enough, it was Cabello who actually scored against his own team on April 24th, his own goal just four minutes into the second half looking like it was going to give the Battalion the win. Apart from that slip up, he was outstanding in that match, making it nearly impossible for the Battalion to play anything over the top. Cabello will be anxious to even his personal score with the Battalion tonight, and follow through on his defensive duties, this time on a much wider pitch. Keep an eye on Cabello. You can’t miss him.
James Stroud, Goalkeeper, NC Battalion:
Stroud’s first game in a Battalion kit came on April 24th against Coras. His nine saves saw him take man of the match honors, but it was the save he couldn’t make that left him with the bitterest of tastes. Shane Shelton’s 89th minute equalizer from the penalty spot was well taken, hit low and hard and into the side netting. Had it been any closer to the center of the goal, Stroud (who got his fingertips to the ball) surely would have made the save. Stroud is not a man who easily forgets, and you can be rest assured he will be on his A game tonight in this long anticipated rematch with the Riverside outfit. Stroud is also coming off his second clean sheet of the season after the Battalion’s 2-0 win against So-Cal on Saturday. With the likes of Fernando Cabello and Shane Shelton always posing an aerial threat, set pieces will be crucial, and Stroud must shine not only with his hands and feet, but with his communication as well.