2008: USASA Region 1 - US Open Cup, First Round
Aegean Hawks FC - 1 vs. Sport Club Portuguese (NJ) - 0
(Newark, NJ - West Side Park, 2 PM)
The Hawks kicked off defense of their 2007 Region I USASA Open Cup title with an away 1-0 win against perennial Champions League (NJ) front-runners, Sport Club Portuguese of Newark, NJ. Sport Club Portuguese has won the NY-NJ Champions league for the last 4 years and have a rich and storied history in American soccer. The game was certain to be a tough test for the Hawks, and a memorable occasion regardless of the outcome.
The Hawks piled into their cars and left DC behind at 8 am for Exit 15 off the New Jersey Turnpike and their final destination in the shadow of Gotham itself. The match kicked off just after 2 pm, with the Hawks playing as stiff as their journeyed legs for the opening ten minutes of the game. As the game settled in, SCP's strategy to exploit the left side of the pitch became apparent, with diagonal balls served into space versus direct play to their forwards. The Hawks defensive line was solid all game long, denying the SCP turn and forcing the outside play. Both teams were unable to muster chances to speak of during the first stanza, until a directed ball from the flanks to striker Carlos Garcia found him sent in on the keeper on a one vs. one, which he could not convert.
At halftime, a focused attempt was made to close the gap between the Hawks center mids and striking corps, and to pressure SCP's stopper who was proving instrumental in orchestrating their attack. Further emphasis was placed on stretching the SCP defense by allowing players to create and penetrate the wings for crosses in the box. In the second half, the tactical adjustments began to take their shape and the Hawks enjoyed several good opportunities off the counter. The Hawks were rewarded with the only goal in the game around the 60' minute mark, when a driven outswinging cross was played into the box by Watson Prather. Substitute Anders Kelto's first touch of the match was a well taken header that found the upper ninety and clanked down over the SCP goal line for the 1-0 margin.
After the goal, the intensity of the match increased a notch and both teams were aggressive in their pursuit of the result. Minutes after putting his team up, Anders Kelto had a one vs. one breakaway of his own that he was sure to convert, but the mishit on the final touch left the SCP fans sighing with relief. SCP pushed hard in the final 20 minutes of the match, playing with focused desperation and intensity that resulted in two golden opportunities to equalize. In the 80th minute, a ball was sent in to the Hawks box and pinballed onto the feet of an SCP midfielder, who launched the ball over Hawks netminder Scott Kelsey from only 6 yards away. Another melee in the box saw SCP send a shot that was sure to find its mark, but Hawks center back Andy Zayas's desperate lunge provided the backboard needed to avert disaster. The Hawks looked to be sealing the deal in the 88th minute, when Carlos Garcia received the ball on the left hand side of the box, cut inside past an oncoming defender, and rifled a knuckled laser from the 18 past the frozen SCP keeper, inches from the post. SCP would no longer threaten and the Hawks would protect their precious lead in stoppage time and hold on for the hard fought away victory.
Next up for the Hawks is an Open Cup Region I Quarterfinal tie with Maryland powerhouse, Baltimore Colts FC, on Sunday May 4th. The home match for the Hawks will serve as the first-ever meeting between two sides that have proven to be among the Region's best in recent years. The Hawks are looking to become the first team in recent memory to repeat as Region I Open Cup champions, and Baltimore will certainly prove a worthy opponent.