Men's Soccer Drops 1-3 to Blues in Region 19 First Round

Men's Soccer Drops 1-3 to Blues in Region 19 First Round

In the NJCAA Region XIX First Round, the no. 11 seeded Montgomery County Community College Mustangs was scheduled to take on the no. 6 seeded Jersey Blues of Brookdale Community College.

On Saturday Oct. 26, the Mustangs arrived in Lincroft, N.J. to play the Blues, one of the top 15 teams in the nation. Going in against such a highly-ranked opponent, the Mustangs' strategy was to overload the Blues' two most dangerous players. Freshman midfielder Jaron Kicinski was assigned to cover the Blues' Ryan Bailey, who scored 26 goals in the regular season, while freshman Elijah Johnson was to cover Marco Fernandez, who had racked up 10 goals and nine assists for the Blues.

Led by Head Coach Obed Arango and Assistant Coach Edgar Martinez, the Mustangs executed the strategy perfectly in the first half, taking out the Blues' strongest players and neutralizing their offensive strength. For 45 minutes of play, the Mustangs and the Blues shared possession evenly, with both teams coming up with attacks and counterattacks.

Coach Arango had foreseen a physically aggressive game with the Blues, a team which accumulated 20 yellow cards and four red cards during the regular season. Arango positioned his athletes wisely to absorb the physicality of the match, with Johnson and sophomore Eric Sylvester anchoring the midfield, captain Brian Shim and freshman Sean Treacy holding up the central defense, and captain Mark Stoughton and freshman Austin Messner protecting the side back positions. The foresight and strategy worked well for the Mustangs, limiting the effectiveness of the Blues' forward momentum and allowing only three corner kicks and four shots from the opponent.

"Our plan was to keep the Blues shut out in the first half," commented Coach Arango. "I knew if we could do that, we could take control of the second half with our fitness and speed." But the plan faltered at 43:20 when the Blues knocked in their first goal of the game. The questionable goal was debated between officials, as the sideline official made an offside call at the exact moment when the central official called the goal. After minutes of debate, the goal was deemed good and left the Mustangs at a 0-1 deficit.

Going into the second half down by one, the Mustangs aimed to keep the midfield strong, while moving lines up to try to tie up the game. The players were instructed to take more chances and while the risky play afforded the Blues more chances, it also allowed the Mustangs to keep better possession of the ball. At the 70:00 mark, the Blues capitalized on one of their counterattacks to bump the score up to 2-0. "With 15:00 left on the clock, and being down 2-0, we had to get more pressure in the offensive zone," noted Arango. "We decided to lift the marks on Bailey and Fernandez, bringing up [Olatunde] Oladipo, Kicinski and Treacy to join the offensive effort of Johnson. We had to go for the goals." In the 35th minute of the game, the Mustangs were given a free kick at the 27 yard line. Sylvester took the shot which was redirected into the top left corner of the goal by Shim. The play brought the game to a score of 2-1 in favor of the Blues.

In the final nine minutes of the game the Mustangs pressured every ball, creating opportunities as the second most offensive team in the league. It looked as if the Mustangs would get the game-tying goal any moment. However, an uncalled foul set the Mustangs into confusion, allowing the Blues to score a game clinching third goal with just under two minutes remaining in the match. "I could see our guys were frustrated not to get a call on the foul in the last minutes of the game," said Arango. "I decided to concentrate on encouraging our team to finish strong."

The Mustangs pressed forward but ultimately concluded their playoff run with a 1-3 loss to the Blues. "I feel sad for the result of the game," said Arango. "For the first time in many years I feel that it was not a fair score. Our team played a great game and played an equal match with the Blues. I try not to judge officiating, but some of the calls made in the game changed the outcome this time. Still, the Mustangs played the game we know - we played with character, intensity, discipline and speed. I am very proud of this team."

Coach Arango reflected on the season, noting that much was accomplished to move the program forward.

"Early in August we put together the team goals for the season and we said that we wanted to be the best Mustangs team in recent years and we did it. We wanted to be in the top 100 teams in the nation, and by the statistics, we were ranked 34th. Our offensive stats show that we were also ranked the second most offensive team nation wide with number of shots on goal," noted Arango.

"However, beyond the numbers, what really counts is that we discovered our own talent and, in that, we discovered our own style and we were faithful to it. We played the ball on the ground like the best teams in the world, such as Brazil in 1982 and Barcelona in 2012. We played soccer as gentleman, by trusting in each other and we decided that intensity was the key to success." "In the First Round game we deserved more and we should have been continuing the journey to the national championship," said Arango. "However we are proud of what we accomplished and the lessons that we learned together. This 2013 Mustangs squad has left a great heritage to the 2014 squad. The soccer program has earned attention throughout the College community and has gained respect outside the College as well."

"What I like the most about this team is that we played as gentleman-warriors, as Samurai, with all the character and all the decency my grand father taught me. What these student-athletes built is more valuable than a championship in itself. The 2014 season start TODAY."