By Jay Mwamba
FrontRowSoccer.com Contributor

New York Greek American’s improbable spring comeback culminated in a summer stunner over Pancyprian Freedoms at St. John’s University last Friday. A goal in each half saw NYGA defeat its Hellenic foes 2-0 and clinch a ninth CSL First Division title.

Harri Rhys Hawkins [32nd-minute penalty kick] and substitute Matt Vowinkel [84th] silenced a partisan crowd of several hundred at Belson Stadium – denying Pancyprian an eighth league championship in the process.

It was the most unlikely of the Greeks’ numerous honors in their great history. Hovering over the relegation zone going into the winter break, they used the three-month hiatus to regroup and come back firing on all cylinders; winning seven of eight spring fixtures and tying the other.

That point, from a 1-1 draw with Pancyprian on May 21 – was enough for NYGA to nick a playoff berth at Cedar Stars Academy’s expense. Cedar had crashed 4-0 to the Shamrocks the previous day, consequently ceding fourth place to the Greeks.

MEGA INJURIES

On match day at St. John’s, a bruised and battered Pancyprian found the invigorated Greeks a step quicker.

Ace forward Chris Megaloudis, himself nursing a sports hernia, said Pancyprian found it tough going on account of injuries picked up in the grueling playoff semi-final victory over the Shamrocks a week earlier. In that game, the Greek-Cypriots had clawed back from two down to tie 3-3 and win a penalty shootout.

“I think, we were in it the first 15-20 minutes and that was it,” said Megaloudis, who won the CSL title [2012] and USASA Amateur National Cup [2014] with the Greeks. “After that we were tired – we couldn’t keep up with the pace of the game.

“In the second half we came out a little stronger, but obviously we didn’t create enough chances. A lot of guys are still hurt, coming off injuries [and] we’re still missing a lot of guys. It was tough, it was hard. But congratulations to the Greeks, they worked to get here, so they deserve to win.”

Pancyprian GM George Halkidis pointed at NYGA’s opener as the turning point of the game — given his side’s injury situation and age. “We couldn’t overcome the first early goal — like I’d said, we’re an old team. What are you going to do? Congratulations to them.”

The opener came just past the half hour mark, after a spell of Greek pressure. Released on the right, Adam Marcu cut into the box and was fouled. Hawkins coolly struck the ball past goalie Nicholas Tarkany Jr.

Marcu had a chance to extend the Greek lead before the interval, but Tarkany made a brilliant point-blank save and produced an encore on resumption [48th] against Marcu again.

At the other end, Greek goalie Andrea-Roberto Pellegrini was also in fine form, denying former LA Galaxy James Riley’s header from a Jeff Matteo free kick [53rd] and, later stopping a Matteo free kick from the left [75th].

With Pancyprian flagging down the stretch, NYGA stepped it up late and were rewarded with a second goal by Vowinkel, who’d come in minutes earlier.

WINNING FORMULA

So how precisely did the Greeks overcome the odds to defeat a side they’d not beaten in more than six games?

“I think it’s all about quality players,” explained technical advisor Richard Nuttall. “We had about five or six quality players come back to the club, they worked hard and they have great soccer IQ.”

The returnees, mostly veterans of the sides that led NYGA to its last title in 2012 and the USASA Amateur Cup two seasons later, included Shaun Foster, Stephen Roche, Daniel Gwyther, Tyler Botte, Elliot Firth and Joe Ruesgen.

“And when you add four or five quality players into what we already got, I think it breeds confidence, it breeds a maturity, it helps the IQ of the team, and I think we just grew in confidence,” added Nuttall. “You could see we can play when we moved the ball.”

NYAC’S REVENGE

New York Athletic Club’s ‘B’ side thwarted Lansdowne Bhoys’ bid for a second consecutive league and cup double with a 10-9 penalty heart breaker in the First Division Reserve Championship match on Randalls Island.

The Bhoys had come from behind the previous week to defeat the same NYAC side 2-1 and retain the D’Arpino State Cup at the Verrazano Sports Complex.

“Another epic match between these two sides,” said NYAC boss Bill Saporito, who had only 13 players available. “If we played 10 games it would probably be 5-5.”

It ended 2-2 this time around, first the pacey Karim Russell putting Lansdowne ahead [15th], only for Pete Lynch to level for NYAC. Sikele Sylvester, a standout for the Bhoys’ first XI, then made it 2-1 early in the second half.

“But once again we dug in, and our own speedster, Chris Sutherland, scored a beauty, going left to right and unleashing a right-footed curler before the water break at 22 minutes,” added Saporito. “It was hot as blazes out there.”

NYAC would then dodge a bullet when Lansdowne hit the crossbar, but would have chances of the final whistle.

NYAC goalie Dave McKeon starred in the marathon shootout after both sides converted their first six attempts.

He bailed NYAC out with a fine save after a teammate had blasted high. McKeon stopped another penalty, converted one and then made the game winning save as NYAC regained the title they last won in 2014.

“Heartache for the Bhoys who led twice and had the better of the possession, and chances, in regular time. Two defensive errors allowed NYAC to equalize,” rued Lansdowne president William McGrory.

To reach the final, the Bhoys had edged NY Greek Americans ‘B’ 1-0 on Mike Fernandez’ strike.

NYAC eked past the Shamrock reserves 3-2 on penalties in their playoff semi-final.

WHITE OUT

In a clash between the North and South conference winners, Central Park Rangers Whites blanked Manhattan Kickers 3-0 on Randalls to claim the CSL’s Division Two crown.

“Dan Miller scored another superb direct free kick in the first half, which we mostly dominated, and then after a period of pressure by the Kickers, Akeem Brooks doubled the lead from Vitaliy Firsov’s pass midway through the second,” reported Eli Vovsha, who led CPR to the North division title.

Tim Michiels got the third goal from close range after the Kicker keeper bobbled a shot.

SPORTING VICTORY

Sporting Astoria ‘B’ prevailed 4-3 over New York Ukrainians’ second XI to lift the Division Two Reserve championship.

Boris Shapoval [penalty], John Woods and Rahail Khan were on target for Ukrainians.

A day earlier on Randalls, Ukrainians first team had pipped City International 2-1 in rescheduled league match.

Tamil Yahya netted both for Ukrainians, while Ryan Hanehan scored on a counter attack, from Jonny Moallem’s long ball.

GOTTSCHEE DOUBLE

Storied BW Gottschee added the Metro Div. II league championship to their Western conference title with a 1-0 decision over Mr. Dennehy’s FC.

Brandon Silva connected from the right wing after which Gottschee would proceed to miss a plethora of chances. They hit the post three times, see normally-reliable forward Greg Davis go close several times and Chris Kilcarr have an effort cleared off the line.

“As the game wore on, the nerves wore down and the play became more scrappy,” said coach John Ryding, who’d beseeched his lads to go out, have fun and finish clinically.

“In the end, the back four and, goalkeeper Julian Rodriguez, held the line with 18-year old Daniel Hristodorov putting in his best performance to date at both right and left back,” noted Ryding. “Kyle Peter, who came in as a substitute in central midfield, also had a career performance tirelessly chasing down balls.”

Man of the match accolades went to midfielder Glenn Whelan who played for 87 minutes before a shoulder injury ended his day.

“The mark of a great team is that you can win the ugly games and this one was won ugly,” summed up Ryding. “Captain Dion Amvrosiatos, the coaching staff and the team look forward to competing in Metro One in the fall.”

CELTS CELEBRATE

Celtic Legends kept the CSL Over-30 crown, donned by the Shamrocks for the past two years, in Irish hands with the 2-1 decision over CPR Old Boys.

Brian Mazza bagged both Celtic goals on Randalls Island.

Lalo was on target for Old Boys, who ended Shamrocks’ reign in the semis with a 2-1 win.

“It was a great day for the lads — nice to see them collect a trophy for the Legends again,” said Celtic team co-founder Ian Woodcock. Stephen Foster and Tyler Fransen did a great job coaching them this year. David Seal did an excellent job getting the Masters into the Over-37 final also.”

COZMOZ PREVAIL

That Over-37 final ended in a second championship for Cozmoz FC who dispatched Celtic Masters 3-1.

Duane Pena [two] and Nedgy Nazon tallied for Cozmoz, the towering Ansumana Gaye had Masters’ lone response.

Andres Alexander won MVP honors in the final while the prolific Nazon was named season MVP.

METRO STARS

In a make-up game, Landowne’s thirds turned on the style to whip new Metro Div. One champions Williamsburg International 5-3 at Tibbetts Brook Park.

Pat Seweryn, Captain Liam Butler, Darren McDermott, Jack Aherne and Richie Hartnett connected.

Sergio Garcia [pen.] had initially leveled for Williamsburg, with Arturo Bello and Jacob Poore momentarily closing the gap to 3-2 and 4-3, respectively, in the second half.

“A virtuoso performance by club legend Damian Mescall in midfield,” McGrory lauded his playmaker. “Six wins in a row, eight unbeaten, to end the season. [They’re] red hot favorites to win the league next season.”

“We couldn’t match their aerial prowess on set-pieces and that was the decisive difference,” said Williamsburg’s Charles von Rosenberg. “It’s tough to lose the final fixture of the year. However, that can’t overshadow what a great feeling it is to win a second straight league title. Well done Doylies!”