Stars and Stripes claim bragging rights with emotional come-from-behind victory
Ontario, CA. – Boasting a total of six Empire Strykers players, the U.S. National Arena Soccer Team defeated rival Mexico 6-5 in a high-caliber international exhibition game on Sunday evening. The thrilling affair in front of a majority pro-Mexico crowd saw the Red, White and Blue battle back from a two-goal deficit and earn an emotional victory that was powered by a standout performance from Tacoma Stars forward Nick Perera, who led the charge with a pair of goals and assists.
The El Tri roster featured Hector Reynoso, a veteran of the Mexican Primera Division and a Chivas de Guadalajara legend, alongside many players from the Chihuahua Savage, one of the top sides in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL).
The crowd at Toyota Arena witnessed a fiercely contested opening quarter that at times bordered on turning chippy. The most noteworthy moment came when Mexico’s Edgar Gonzalez and Strykers defender Howard Miller Jr. collided in mid-air while challenging for an airborne ball. The situation saw both players drop to the ground and writhe in pain, with Miller Jr. seeming worse off than his counterpart but finally leaving the field on his own two feet.
The lack of scoring didn’t last long into the second quarter, as Jorge Miller-Madero put El Tri on top by smashing home the rebound following a powerful attempt from Jorge Leal. The U.S. nearly had an instant response when David Ortiz unleashed a long-range rocket that was tipped off the crossbar in spectacular fashion by ‘keeper Ivan Munoz. Mere moments later, the Americans did draw level on a tally from Perera, who was quickest to pounce on a loose ball after a dangerous attempt by Miller Jr.
Mexico subsequently should have reclaimed the lead, but Jaime Romero couldn’t manage to hit the open net, his close-range effort smashing off the board above the goal frame. While the U.S. players had dodged a bullet, they weren’t so lucky when Jorge Rios put their opposition ahead 2-1 on a line-splitting through pass. Latching on to the ball with lightening speed, the midfielder found himself one on one with ‘keeper Chris Toth and calmly slotted his finish inside the near post.
The visitors from south of the border missed a golden opportunity to double their advantage when Miguel Diaz picked out a wide open Jose Lopez and the midfielder opened up his hips just to miss wide right from well inside the penalty area. El Tri was punished for the squandered chance shortly thereafter, Perera producing a moment of brilliance on a restart near the right edge of the box. The attacker deftly lobbed the ball to a streaking Zak Reget, whose perfectly hit volley snuck underneath Munoz and into the net.
With the game tied 2-2 at intermission, few would have predicted the attacking fireworks still to come. Mexico quickly found the go-ahead goal courtesy of a tap-in by Romero, who had little trouble converting after a Roberto Escalante drive was deflected right into his path by the outstretched leg of Strykers ace Franck Tayou. Perera could have leveled the match moments later, having been put in by Michael Ramos, but he sent the ball wide right for a rare unmarked miss from close range.
After U.S. forward Sebastian Mendez forced an excellent kick save from El Tri stopper Bryan Saul, Escalante tallied at the other end to double his side’s advantage. The defender toe-poked the ball inside the left upright, having taken it off the foot of Perera, who claimed foul play to no avail. However, Perera quickly made amends by cutting the Americans’ deficit to 3-4, showing great strength to hold off a defender, turn toward goal and fire home an unstoppable shot.
The U.S. drew level before the conclusion of the third quarter, as Tayou converted comfortably on a penalty shot following a handball outside the area by ‘keeper Saul.
The Red, White and Blue would continue their momentum into the game’s closing period, jumping out to a 5-4 lead when Ramos sprinted into the box on the right and unselfishly squared the ball to an open Miller Jr. for a simple finish. Mexico found a leveler yet again, Edgar Gonzalez making it 5-5 on a penalty shot after a foul by U.S. backstop Toth.
That set the stage for the day’s final tally, a gorgeous game winner from Stars and Stripes striker Mendez, who put the finishing touch on a textbook counter-attack. Strykers midfielder Jesus Pacheco picked out Perera on the right side of the area and the 37-year-old set up Mendez with a perfect first-time centering pass.
The game’s dramatic closing stages saw chances on both sides of the field, one of which was denied by ‘keeper Toth, whose one-handed diving parry kept out a powerful drive from Mexico’s Luis Esteban. Ortiz nearly added an insurance goal for the Americans, but his long-range rocket rattled the crossbar.
The thrilling rivalry match between the U.S. and Mexico is sure to have fans in the area excited for the Empire Strykers’ December 15 home opener in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL). For more inforation on the upcoming season, visit www.TheEmpireStrykers.com.
Cover Picture: @Sandras_Sports_shots