Port Jefferson SC struck for four unanswered goals in its Ryder-Vass triumph.
By Michael Lewis
MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. — Finding out you’re going to play a championship match in less than 24 hours?
Finding yourself with a two-goal deficit a half hour into the game?
Port Jefferson SC overcame these obstacles to register a 4-2 comeback victory over the Dix Hills Elite in the Ryder-Vass Under-23 final of the Long Island Soccer Football League at John J. Burns Park Wednesday night.
Daniel Espinoza tallied twice for Port Jeff, including the game-winner in the that snapped a 2-2 tie in the 82nd minute in a contest that saw end-to-end action and attacking soccer by both sides.
“These guys have a lot of heart, man,” Port Jefferson assistant coach Akeem Morris said. “Throughout the season, we have been down a lot. We have come back. We played Gottschee in the Round of 16 and that game was a battle. We were down 2-0, came back, went down again and came back. So it’s been a roller-coaster all season. So, I knew we could have done this being 2-0 down.”
“It makes us play better too because we get comfortable a lot whenever we’re up. Set pieces always affect us. So I think being 2-0 down helped us. … The biggest takeaway is that we stayed positive.”
That Port Jefferson and Dix Hills were in a position to play for the title was a surprise, considering the results of Sunday’s semifinals because both squads lost on the field. Port Jefferson went down to a 5-4 shootout defeat to the Dix Hills Hurricanes after playing to a 2-2 draw and the Elite lost to the Rosedale Super Eagles, 2-0.
However, it was determined that both winning sides had used ineligible players in the semifinals, so Port Jeff and Dix Hills were awarded forfeit wins and advanced to the final.
Port Jefferson did not discover it had an opportunity to play for a title until 9 p.m. Tuesday night. The players found out via a …. text. The final kicked off here at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
“Everybody was excited to play,” Morris said. “Everybody was buzzing.”
“It was a second chance and we took that chance,” forward Mosiah Whyte said.
As it turned out, 16 players showed up for the championship game — the most for its side at a Ryder-Vass match this summer.
The game did not start off well for Port Jefferson as Dix Hills struck for goals in the opening half hour in an opening half that was played in a drizzle.
First, Stephen Megaloudis lifted the Elite into a 1-0 edge as his left-sided shot went off goalkeeper Raul Bonilla’s hands and into the net in the 15th minute.
Christopher Gruver doubled the lead in the 30th minute, converting Konstantine Mendrinos’ left-side pass from the middle of the penalty area.
Port Jefferson then went on the attack.
“It’s about keeping your composure,” Espinoza. “It’s not easy. That first goal brings it all back.”
That goal was scored by Espinoza, who powered a magnificent 40-yard shot from the right side into the upper left corner a shot that keeper Matthew Apicella could not stop to slice the deficit to 2-1 in the 36th minute.
“Things happen. It’s fortune. Good goal,” Espinoza said. “I thought I could make a dangerous situation out of it. It went my way. That’s soccer for you.”
Whyte endured a frustrating game for the opening 71 minutes or so. He missed a couple of shots and wound up holding his head in his hands twice. But he wouldn’t give up.
“It’s a big door and I’m knocking on the door and somebody’s got to answer,” he said.
Apicella made several saves in the first half of the final half to hold Port Jefferson at bay before David Targett fouled Whyte in the box for a penalty kick. Whyte tied his shoelaces before sending his spot kick into the upper right corner for a 2-2 deadlock even though Apicella leaped in the right direction in the 71st minute.
Whyte said he changed his mind on the penalty at the very last second.
“This is maybe something you don’t admit, but in the semifinal, I believe they [Dix Hills] watched the game. I took two PKs, one in regulation, where I went bottom left and the other one I chipped the keeper, so I had that in my mind a little bit. I picked my head up and see him going down and I figured I would chip him again. I did change my mind. It’s not something you admit, but it worked out in the end.”
While it wasn’t as spectacular as his early goal, Espinoza’s winner in the 82nd minute counted just the same as he slotted home a Rances Reneau Bardales pass from the right side for a 3-2 lead.
Two minutes into stoppage time, Bardles played playmaker again, this time feeding James Thristino for an insurance goal.
“It’s very rewarding to win,” Whyte said. “I also want to give a round of applause to the league and the staff for abiding by the rules and being strict, forfeiting the other two teams and allowing us to play, rightfully so. I think we put on a good show for them.”