|Hotspur vs Royals|
By Tom Leiss
For Fredericksburg Hotspur: www.fasahotspur.com
FREDERICKSBURG, Va.—The Fredericksburg Hotspur Premier Development League team got off to a quick start this season, going undefeated in the team’s first seven games.
Unfortunately, the side has hit a dry spell that resulted in the team’s first two loses of the season over the weekend. On Sunday, Fredericksburg fell 1-0 to the Northern Virginia Royals at the University of Mary Washington. That followed a 3-1 setback against the Virginia Beach Piranhas the day before at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex.
The Hotspur (5-2-2) created an abundance of chances both days, but were unable to get the key goal when needed as they came away with their first two loses of the season.
“I think we are playing well; we have the chances, we just can’t finish now,” Fredericksburg captain Karel Manrau said after Sunday’s game. “So, I think it’s a matter of going back to practice and doing some finishing this week.
“I’m not worried in the sense of we are putting the effort into the game. You can have like 90 percent of the possession; you can have like 50 shots on goal; at the end, you just have to have one goal more than the opponent. So, there’s not a lot of mystery about why we don’t perform lately, we just need to score goals. I’m confident we can come back.”
Coach Keith Marine echoed Manrau’s thoughts and added that the rigors of the seasons may also have caught up with the team a bit. The team only had three field players available as substitutes for Sunday’s game due to injuries and players that were unable to be at the game due to prior commitments.
“We’re playing great soccer, we’re just not finishing,” Marine said. “Sometimes you go through a stretch like that where the goal seems like it’s a Pug goal—2-feet wide, 2-feet tall—and you try too hard and eventually it just comes. Then the goals come a little easier and then you don’t think about it so much, but now it’s on our minds.”
NORTHERN VIRGINIA AT FREDERICKSBURG
Sunday’s game against Fredericksburg’s northern Virginia rivals started out well for the Hotspur. The home side linked together some good passing plays offensively and the defense held firm, allowing only a couple long shots from the Royals.
Despite Fredericksburg controlling possession early, it was Northern Virginia (3-3-2) that would break through first.
In the 33rd minute, A.J. Sheta sent a pass through the right side of the defense to Seth Rudolph. The forward took a touch before slipping a shot past Hotspur goalie Colin Newcity to give the Royals a 1-0 advantage.
Northern Virginia would create the best chances the rest of the half, but the Hotspurs were up to the task. Manrau slide at the last second to block another opportunity in the 37th minute and Newcity came up with a huge point-blank save in added time to keep the Fredericksburg within one at the half.
The Royals’ best opportunity to double their lead after the intermission came only 90 seconds after the restart. Speedy forward Stan Kaweesi broke in free, but was once again denied by a last-second slide tackle from Manrau.
Later, Fredericksburg’s Tishan Hanley got off a 10-yard shot that was saved in the 51st minute and substitute Demar Stephenson continually created havoc for the Royals’ defense.
The Hotspur looked to have leveled the match in the 77th minute when fellow substitute Gene Daniels flicked a nifty pass to Todd Wharton. The midfielder put the ball past Northern Virginia goalie Joel Helmick and into the net, but it was all for naught as the play was waived off due to an offside call by the assistant referee.
Wharton had one last chance in the 80th minute, but tired legs after two hard-fought games in 24 hours took over and his 15-yard shot sailed over the crossbar and the Royals were able to hold on for the win.
Manrau said the losses are tough, but that he thinks the team will be able to recover.
“We’re trying not to panic, trying to come back at the beginning of the week working hard, practicing hard and it’s going to come back” the defender said. “We know we are good enough to be a top team in this division.
“I think if you never have to fight during a season, the first time you’re in trouble, you don’t really know how to react. So, I think it’s good to experience—also the fact that we have a lot of young players; it’s different to experience being in a more negative situation. We’re going to get better after that and going to trust our kids to play hard and win the next game.”
FREDERICKSBURG AT VIRGINIA BEACH
On Saturday, Fredericksburg’s possession game was running on all cylinders and the Hotspur looked dangerous the entire game.
However, outshooting and out-possessing a team doesn’t always earn you a win. The Piranhas (2-6-2) were outshot 16-5 by their guests, but took better advantage of their opportunities to get a victory on their home field.
In the 31st minute, Earl Floyd got around Manrau, who had slipped on the Sportsplex’s turf field. The forward then crossed a ball in front that Jerjer Gibson headed home before Hotspur goalie Ryan Taylor could corral it.
Fredericksburg was not deterred and continued to create chances, the best of which came in the 43rd minute when defender Nick Rich rang a 22-yard free kick off the left post.
The Piranhas doubled their lead in first-half stoppage time. Floyd cut across the top of the goal area from the left and slipped a pass to the right where Devin Pierce one-timed a shot past Taylor to make it 2-0 at the break.
Fredericksburg’s Ryan Sappington said if the missed opportunities had gone the other way; it could have gone a long toward changing how the game played out.
“It’s unfortunate, but it would have been a completely different game,” Sappington said. “ We’ve gotta jump on teams early and when we get the chances, we’ve got to put them away because once we get down we put ourselves in bad spots, we put ourselves in a hole that we have to dig out of.”
Fredericksburg came out pressing after the intermission, and putting more of its shots on target than in the opening 45 minutes. But Virginia Beach goalie Tyler Benham repeatedly came up with big saves to keep them off the scoreboard.
However, Sappington’s hustling play finally paid off for the Hotspur in the 68th minute.
The midfielder ripped a close-range shot from the left that Benham dived to block once again. But Sappington outworked everybody to get to the rebound first and put it away at the right post to bring Fredericksburg within 2-1.
Marine said the play was just a typical example of how Sappington has played all season.
“Ryan always plays with energy. He’s always a positive influence on the other players,” Marine said. “You always know what you’re going to get with Ryan Sappington; you don’t have to worry about that.”
Two minutes later, Hanley broke in free behind the Virginia Beach defense and was taken down in the penalty area by a late slide tackle from a Piranhas’ defender. But instead of awarding a penalty kick opportunity that could have tied the game, the referee showed the Hotspur forward a yellow card for diving.
Marine said the controversial call was a major factor in the final outcome of the game.
“I totally disagree with the yellow card on Tishan,” the coach said. “I think that was a big change in momentum of the game. If that’s a PK instead of a yellow card on a flop, it totally changes it because after that Tishan changed. His game was different.”
Minutes later, Virginia Beach retook its two-goal advantage. After a miscommunication between Taylor and one of his defenders, Gibson raced in and put the loose ball away giving the Piranhas a 3-1 lead with 14 minutes to play.
The Hotspur continued to press, but were continually unable to capitalize, often being denied by Benham (seven saves) as Virginia Beach held on for the win.
Marine said he thought his team outplayed the Piranhas, but that’s not always the deciding factor in a game.
“I just felt we played a really good game and the game can be cruel sometimes and unfortunately we were on one of those today,” he said. “We deserved that victory … we deserved those three points by the way we played.”
Sappington was thinking along the same lines and added: “We just had a few mental lapses that led the breakdowns and goals. I just think it wasn’t our night. We’ve been undefeated up till this, but every team has setbacks and it’s going to be important to see how we bounce back.”
Fredericksburg is back in action on Wednesday with an exhibition game against the D.C. United U-23 team, at 6 p.m., at UMW. The Hotspur return to PDL play on Friday when they host the Real Maryland Monarchs (4-3-2) in a key South Atlantic Division showdown at 6 p.m.