Comeback kids: WCFC defends their home field in thrilling victory over St. Paul Blackhawks
“We know we are not an easy team to beat at home, especially with this crowd. That is incredible. Nobody else has this kind of crowd, wherever we go to play."
WORTHINGTON — Worthington Community Football Club hosted an action-packed doubleheader on Saturday.
Both games featured WCFC scoring late game-winning goals.
The WCFC Los Dos play in the United Premier Soccer League First Division and they hosted Rochester FC. The semi-pro Toros played the St. Paul Blackhawks for the primetime feature.
WCFC II 2, Rochester FC 1
José Luis Ulloa bookmarked a strong offensive day for the WCFC second team with an opening goal in the first 10 minutes, and a game-winning goal scored again in the final 10.
The Los Dos had a nightmare welcome to the UPSL last week when they were thrashed 10-1 by Leon FC. But put in front of a contingent of avid Worthington soccer fans, they rebounded with a feel-good victory.
Ulloa started the game with excitement. He pounced on a misplayed ball from the Rochester keeper to his center back and scored the game’s first goal, quickly.
In between their two goals, the Bulls defended — and did so well.
WCFC II’s defensive line was cohesive and stayed in position with one another. This frustrated the Rochester attacking group as they were flagged offside multiple times throughout the match.
The defense of WCFC also created several attacking chances on the counter attack. The offense of the Los Dos can run like the wind with the ball at their feet.
Scoring chances for Los Dos were infrequent — but came about with high quality.
WCFC put a shot on net late in the first half, which was parried away with a strong punch from the Rochester FC keeper.
The second half started with Rochester FC in better possession. They earned a fast and opportune scoring chance from a free kick spot — which was smothered away by the WCFC II defense.
The Toros took the set piece as an opportunity to go on the counter attack, but the resulting shot on net went high of the crossbar.
The game fell into a rhythm. Rochester FC stayed in stronger possession of the ball, but athletic play from WCFC keeper Elijah Robinson and cohesion on the backline stalled the Rochester team from an early equalizer.
But after a sustained attack from a corner kick, Rochester tied the game up at 1-1.
WCFC regained some offensive vigor and quickly won a corner kick — which fizzled and ultimately was cleared by a tall Rochester FC backline.
Both teams began to find their best chances in the counterattack. Robinson made back-to-back great saves with his hands.
On a Rochester corner kick, Ulloa found a powerful clearance land at his feet near the back end of the WCFC half.
Ulloa worked his way around a Rochester defender with skills and foot passes to himself before beating the keeper with no one else in front of him.
WCFC was able to defend until the referee’s final whistle to win their first-ever victory.
Rochester FC 0 1 – 1
WCFC II 1 1 – 2
WCFC 2, St. Paul 1
In a comeback for the ages, the Toros won their second-ever game with two goals in the final 30 minutes of play against UPSL Premier Division opponent St. Paul.
WCFC played without several starting players, and instrumental center defensive midfielder Adonay Arias "Chele" Guardado played just the first half due to discomfort stemming from a tackle that came late in Thursday’s victory over Austin Villa FC.
The Blackhawks entered Saturday’s match as one of the best teams in the conference with three victories in their first four matches.
And they showed early on how their stellar record came about. St. Paul dominated the first half against the Toros with strong physical challenges and a committed defensive press.
They moved the ball with confidence and authority through the Toros defense.
The first 30 minutes, WCFC did not concede a goal — but plenty of goal scoring opportunities.
The best chance was a free kick just outside the penalty box — no more than 19 meters out. St. Paul cleared the Toros’ wall, but also the top of the goal. The Blackhawks' lone goal of the night came in the 36th minute from the speed of Samuel Hoyt.
The first half was whistled to a close, and the two teams went into their locker rooms at Trojan Field.
To start the second half, important substitutions were made by both teams.
First the visiting Blackhawks subbed off Youssef Abdallah and Jackson Lagos, whose pace and press on the attacking wing had given the Toros trouble.
The Toros in turn subbed on Miguel Moreno and Domingo "Sunday" Bernabe. who provided the Toros' stellar pace.
In an effort to punish the Blackhawks' committed press, the Toros spent much of their possession in the first half playing long balls.
But, a much taller backline from St. Paul kept clearing the ball away from any further danger.
At half, WCFC co-owner and coach Eswin Hernandez implored his team to think smaller and play more ground passes and faster.
“Their defense was strong and tall but they were slow,” said Hernandez. “We put fast guys on the floor who were able to score. They (Bernabe and Moreno) went on and we saw the difference right away. There was no way we could win through long balls, you can see the size of our players — we have really short people.”
By the 60 minute mark, momentum was finally turning towards the home team. Each time the Toros crossed the midfield line, chants, claps and general excitement from the grandstands poured out.
“That was a big impact for our guys,” said Hernandez on playing to a delighted crowd. “We are really thankful for that and we are really thankful for two home games and two wins — and the fans are happy about that.”
By the 70th minute mark, the crowd sensed a goal was imminent and through a flurry of Toros a soccer ball ricocheted off the right post and into the back of the Blackhawks net for a tie game.
“We knew that we only needed one and that everything was going to change,” said Hernandez. “We noticed they started slowing down and finally we were able to score the first goal and from there everything changed.”
The Blackhawks lacked the same offensive firepower they displayed in the first half. They in turn tried to play long balls, but strong clearances from Dalen Gonzalez and captain Jose "Toti" Morales kept many of the chances away.
“Today, I just told him, ‘You are the captain, you are the leader — you have to show your teammates what you are made of,'” said Hernandez on Morales. “We have to be a good example for our people — for all our kids who one day could be a part of this team and the best way to do that is playing a really good game over there (on the field) — and he did.”
The few second-half chances the Blackhawks did put on net were covered up by Kody Honius — including a dicey rebounded shot.
But the Toros offense kept humming and had found new life through speed and substitution.
Moreno scored the go-ahead goal in the final ten minutes of regulation play. Moreno connected on a Prince Lebbi Jr. cross and signaled to the crowd whose excitement was palpable.
“I think everybody is going to start taking notice about that,” said Hernandez on the Toros home field advantage. “We know we are not an easy team to beat at home, especially with this crowd. That is incredible. Nobody else (in the UPSL Midwest West Conference) has this kind of crowd, wherever we go to play. I told them, ‘Our fans are doing their part, so it's our responsibility to do our part in the field.’”
WCFC continues its homestand into next week and will play undefeated Minneapolis City SC (3-0-1) on Saturday at Trojan Field with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m.
WCFC is currently sixth in the table with a record of 2-2-1.
“That will be another tough game,” said Hernandez. “But we are going to prepare during the week and hopefully recover our guys from injury and be 100% and available for the next game.”
St. Paul 1 0 – 1
WCFC 0 2 – 2