May 16, 2012

Hotspur Win Season Opener against Royals

Fredericksburg Hotspur hold on for season-opening win

By Tom Leiss

FAIRFAX, Va.—The Fredericksburg Hotspur opened their 2012 Premier Development League season with a 3-2 win against the Northern Virginia Royals on Sunday at Fairfax High School.

Fredericksburg (1-0) jumped on top early with a goal in the fourth minute and built its advantage to 3-0 by the 51st minute, before having to fight to hang on for the victory in the closing minutes.

Hotspur coach Grover Gibson said overall the result was good for the first game, but that there were many things—good and bad—from the match that the team can build on going forward.

“It took [us] about 10 or 15 minutes to get into the game and then I think we found our feet and did well,” Gibson said. “And then there was a time at about the 75th minute where we swam a little bit. But otherwise I’m pleased.

“I think if you take the positives that you need to make it a learning experience and they realize that we need to finish our chances and we need to play to zero … If they take those points and learn from them then it’ll be a perfect experience. … We won. We got three points. … And then take some of the negatives and build off of those and then it’ll be exactly what we needed.”

The Hotspur took a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute when defender Dale Robins-Bailey (James Madison University) redirected a corner kick from Don Smart into the Royals’ net from close range.

After the early goal, Fredericksburg countered Northern Virginia’s high pressure strategy with a possession game that eventually allowed them to slow the action down at times and look for openings in the Royals’ defense.

During that stretch, the Royals (0-1) looked to turn turnovers into counterattacks as they tried to level the score. However, they were continually thwarted by a Hotspur defense that was led by a strong performance from Grant Silvester (University of Virginia).

Fredericksburg was able to extend its advantage with five minutes left in the opening half on a quick counterattack of its own.

Tishan Hanley took the ball over in the midfield before feeding Smart on the left side of the box. Smart took a couple touches before calmly finishing past Royals’ goalie Joel Helmick, allowing the Hotspur to take a 2-0 lead into the intermission.

Smart caused trouble for the Royals’ all game with his darting runs through their defense and later nearly added another scored with a long-range blast that ricocheted off the crossbar.

“I think Don was virtually man of the match,” Gibson said. “He was always looking for the goal. He was always quick. He was fast. He was working behind the ball. He was a complete player for us.”

The guests quickly extended their advantage to 3-0 six minutes after the restart.

Josh West (College of William & Mary) tossed a quick throw in near midfield over the high-pressing Northern Virginia defense to and onrushing Hanley. The St. Kitts and Nevis international then buried a shot from the right side of the box into the left side panel of the Royals’ goal for the three-goal cushion.

Despite the Hotspur building what seemed like a comfortable lead, Northern Virginia did not let up on its high-pressing tactic and it eventually paid dividends.

Eight minutes after Hanley’s tally, Mitchell got behind the Fredericksburg defense and fired a shot that beat Hotspur goalie Colin Newcity (James Madison University), but caromed off the crossbar.

In the 66th minute, Northern Virginia was finally able to brake through the Hotspur defense. After earning a free kick from about 25 yards out, A.J. Sheta buried a shot into the upper right corner to cut the Fredericksburg advantage to 3-1.

The Royals then cut their deficit to one goal in the 81st minute when they were awarded a penalty kick. Despite Newcity getting a piece of the shot, Mo Hughes converted the spot kick to make the score 3-2.

From there, Fredericksburg battled to hold to onto its advantage and escaped with a 3-2 victory, giving Gibson a win in his head coaching debut.

Despite the scare in the closing minutes, Smart was pleased with the team’s performance.

“We had a three goal lead so we kind of laid back a bit, but we finally got the job done toward the end of the game,” he said. “We held out and everybody worked hard the same way.”

The Hotspur hope to carry the momentum built from the win into Saturday’s home opener. Fredericksburg will host the Virginia Beach Piranhas, at 5:30 p.m., at the University of Mary Washington, as the second part of a doubleheader. To open the day’s action, the W-League Fredericksburg Impact will take on the Northern Virginia Majestics at 2 p.m. Admission is free to both games.