Friday, July 20, 2007

Rays lose 1-0 heartbreaker to Crusaders

Under overcast and misty skies, the Rhode Island Stingrays dropped their final home match of the 2007 season to the Cape Cod Crusaders Wednesday night, losing in heartbreaking fashion on a Dwight Barnett header in the 68th minute.

The match, played at the Stingrays home away from home, Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, pitted the PDL rivals on a fast artificial surface made even quicker by the misty conditions engulfing the region.

Early on, it was clear that the Crusaders looked to acquire goal number one, as they set their offensive tempo rather quickly, forcing the Rays defenders to keep the potent offense (30 goals all season) at bay in the opening minutes.
The Crusaders delivered their first threatening shot in the 10th minute, when Dan Stratford, who hounded the Rays back line all night, went one-on-one down the right flank with defender Derek Puerta before deflecting a shot that Rays keeper Josh Ford harnessed for the stop.

As the Cape Cod kept the home club on its toes, the Rays managed to find daylight of their own in the 25th minute. Marlon Giraldo took a dangerous free kick from 25 yards out, and rocketed the ball mere inches above the crossbar. Though the shot missed, it put the Crusaders on notice that the Rays were not content with simply stifling their attack.

Another chance developed in the 36th minute on a Stingray counterattack, as Giraldo sidestepped his defender, and launched a missile on Crusader keeper James Thorpe, who dismantled the heat-seeker.

With the final seconds of the first half ticking away, the Crusaders feverishly counterattacked in the 45th minute, when the menacing Stratford sailed a free kick to Barnett, who wildly headed the ball wide of the intended target, as the half expired soon thereafter.

After the second half kicked off, the Rays continued their stellar defense by stifling an attack that nearly counterattacked at will. Cape Cod wasted no time in reclaiming the attack less than two minutes in, as Stratford delivered a dangerous cross from the left that forced Ford airborne to intercept the pass.
The slick surface continued to wreak havoc in early minutes of the second frame, as the ball unnaturally skipped and slid along the multi-lined, all-purpose turf at Bryant University Stadium.

A promising chance materialized in the 54th minute, when the Rays forcefully reclaimed possession on a clever steal by Jeff Gonsalves off a developing Crusader counterattack. The striker then proceeded down the right wing, before sending in a beautiful cross to an open Lukasz Tumicz, who side-volleyed a screamer over the crossbar.

The clubs traded possessions thereafter until the fateful 68th minute. Stratford took a free kick and delivered a fantastic bending ball into the mixer. Amid the rush of players crashing the box, Barnett rose to the occasion, and powerfully headed the pass into the back of the net, giving the Crusaders the all-important first goal.

Attempting to kick start the attack again, the Rays reassembled the troops down the pitch in the 72nd minute kick started by defender John Nolan. He blazed right into the teeth of the Cape Cod back line before sending a feed to Gonsalves, who fired a wild shot well wide of the net.

After a frustrating night of near-misses, the Rays launched one more push toward net in the 89th minute. From the left edge of the box, Giraldo swept a slick, devilishly skipping grounder that met its untimely demise in the mitts of Thorpe, thus snuffing out the last chance at finding the equalizer.

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