Most of the games I have covered at Montclair State's Soccer Park have been easy evenings but Sunday's match between New York Red Bulls II and New Mexico takes the cake-- a breezy night in the 70s and the match was exciting as well.
First team players Steven Sserwadda and Wikelman Carmona started for new head coach Ibrahim Sekagya in the Baby Bull lineup, and both were very active. After giving up an 8th minute goal to NMU's Nico Brett, the home side settled down. The defense of Red Bull let their goalkeeper, Giannis Nikopolidis down on their first concession, letting a forward dribble unscathed down the wing into the box and crossing easily to a striker who just tapped the ball in.
However, the Red Bulls II started creeping back into the game at the end of the second half. Just ten minutes inside the second half, Daniel De Leon picked up the ball at the end line and crossed into the New Mexico box. His cross was headed out up the middle where Sserwadda picked up the ball wide open and came right back at New Mexico. The Ugandan international dribbled through two defenders before scoring a well-worked volley with his right foot, that was smashed past the goalkeeper.
Out of the Pan & Into the Fire
To quote the greatest fantasy novel "The Hobbit", the game got more intense after Red Bull tied it. At this point, the visitors upped the ante, and the Red Bulls II had the strength to repulse them. Between the 60 and 70th minute, New Mexico had two free kicks and both created quite the disruption but Nikopolidis was there to save the day.
In the 75th, recent signing Hassan Ndam was sent off after tugging the jersey of an opponent who had moved past him. The play could have been only a ticking off but the referee who had been prone to carding all game long decided to show a Red to the Baby Bull player. Now, Coach Sekagya's team were down to ten men against a team who were going for it offensively.
The Red Bulls II made several desperate tackles that averted disaster leading up to the end of regulation time. But defender Daniel De Leon was most visible of the Baby Bull defenders. In the 88th minute, De Leon blocked German Jerome Kiesewetter's shot inside the box in the. The Baby Bulls could not hold the dam forever and in the 89th minute, they gave up the winning header off a corner kick.
Things were not over as New Mexico earned a Penalty when Nikopolidis fell on top of their forward. Justin Portillo stepped up to take it, shooting low and to the side which Nikopolidis skillfully handed away. Nikopolidis had four saves in the losing effort.
After the Dust Settled
After the dust settled at Montclair State University's soccer park, coach Sekagya sat down with the media to describe the game as he seen it. The Baby Bulls continue to show improvement in their compete level since Sekagya took over on July 4 and he said that, today his team deserved a point; "From the beginning we had a little bit of a problem of being in our structure a little bit, they found the open man every time. In the second half, we changed a little bit of some things, and then you can see how in the second half we looked different, we pressed them. I think we deserved something today."
It has been a wild year for Steven Sserwadda who played for Baby Bulls at the start of the year, then missed a lot of action due to international play in May and June. This was his first game back in USL since May and his coach was high on his performance.
With Steven you can see the level he has when he is in the team. He played well and you can see the goal, it was fantastic, that’s how this team is. Someone like this, you can see why he jumped up to be with the first team and when he comes down, he shows how aggressive he can be...he’s a good player and to score a goal like that today was fantastic. - Coach Sekagya'
Daniel De Leon was subbed on for Christoper Cragwell at center back in the 44th minute and put in a good shift. The 21-year-old American discussed what contributing to his team, even in a loss, meant to him.
"You never know when you're going to be on the field, so I think when you get the opportunity, when you get the chance to play, you got to give it your all and just continue to put the team first." Daniel De Leon
Showing a team-first mentality, De Leon touched on how playing for Sekagya has felt during these last four matches.
Ibrahim [Sekagya] and the entire coaching staff before and after, they did an amazing job with the team, and I think we all learned a lot of things from the coaching staff from the beginning of the year to the end of the year and they're both doing a great job with the squad. I think he's motivating us a lot since we've been losing, and he's just helping us stay encouraged to the end of the season.
Anthony graduated from Montclair State University, where he covered a variety of sports for three years. He co-hosts a sports-themed radio show on campus radio station, WMSC 90.3 FM, which was recently named #1 college radio station in the nation.