TEANECK, N.J. – Hakoah battled through injuries to key players and a resilient opponent to capture its sixth straight league match on Sunday, April 1 at University Stadium. Saeed Sulemana-Baba and Michel Asayag scored two goals each in the victory, but the home team's failure to convert early chances nearly cost three points.
The sky blues took control of the match early on, using high pressure to force giveaways in the attacking half. The strategy nearly paid dividends in the sixth minute, when Asayag pounced on a loose ball and unleashed a low shot toward the far corner that the EFC goalkeeper tipped off the post and out for a corner. More chances followed as midfielder Sjur Gundersen, who wore the captain's armband in the absence of the injured Harel Nahar, played a low cross in that found Jonah Silk in front of the goal. Silk's blazed his shot wide. Moments later, Silk did well to control the ball and dribble past his marker before blasting a left-footed shot that was saved. The early pressure produced another good opportunity, when in the 11th minute, Gundersen stepped into a challenge, won the ball, and immediately played Asayag through. Asayag pulled his shot wide of the mark.
Hakoah's strong spell continued through the first half hour, with German Dubovis creating one of the best opportunities when he floated a cross that found Sulemana-Baba in front of goal, but the forward's header missed wide. Dubovis also went close himself, nailing a shot from distance that hit the crossbar and bounded out in the 27th minute.
EFC's best chance of the half came in the 22nd minute, when a mistake in the back allowed EFC striker, Diego Flores to slip in and fire a shot that was parried nicely by Hakoah's Aleksey Nazarov.
The exciting, but ultimately uneventful start to the game gave no hint of the frantic way the first half would end and the second half would begin. In the 29th minute, Hakoah suffered a big blow as the influential Gundersen hobbled off the field with an injury. His place in midfield was taken by Phil Robinson, who filled in capably despite being less than 100% himself.
Two minutes later, off a free kick, Asayag lobbed the ball into space and Sulemana-Baba raced to it and finished low to the near post to put the home team ahead 1-0. That lead lasted all of a minute, as an EFC counterattack put Hakoah on the back foot, and failure to close down the attackers allowed a pass to slip through to the feet of EFC's Diego Flores, whose neat finish knotted the game at a goal a piece.
Five minutes later, Sulemana-Baba gave Hakoah the lead back in dazzling fashion, beating his man to the endline and sticking the ball into the back of the net from a near impossible angle. He nearly completed the hat-trick shortly after, deftly controlling the ball and creating enough separation to get off a shot that was deflected wide by the EFC goalkeeper.
Hakoah's momentum continued in the 40th minute, when defender Josh Pransky won the ball near midfield and played it forward to Sulemana-Baba. The forward held up the ball long enough for Asayag to surge forward. Sulemana-Baba's perfectly weighted pass put Asayag through on goal. Asayag calmly rounded the keeper and applied the finish to send Hakoah into the break with a 3-1 advantage.
The home team continued to enjoy the better of possession and was somewhat surprised to see its two-goal lead cut to one early in the second half when a seemingly harmless EFC free kick bounced in the box and was not cleanly collected by Nazarov. The mishap proved costly as an unmarked Francisco Camargo had no trouble depositing the ball into the back of the net to give the visitors new life.
That mistake could have been quickly remedied, when Silk got around the back of the defense with the ball at his feet and rolled the ball back across the middle, but Asayag's shot flew over the bar. Instead, Asayag waited until the 54th minute to reestablish Hakosh's two-goal edge. Midfielder Casey Mitton settled the ball wonderfully and put it onto Asayag's feet as he faced away from goal. The striker turned his defender nicely and knocked a low shot off the post and in.
But this was a day on which a win was not to come easily and in the 63rd minute, EFC's Steve Pozo latched onto a ball and ripped a shot from 35 yards into the back of the Hakoah net for his team leading fifth goal of the season. Fortunately for Hakoah, that proved to be the last goal of the game, though in fact the home team looked the side more likely to score again as the game reached its conclusion.
SCH -- Sulemana-Baba (Asayag) 31
EFC -- Flores 32
SCH -- Sulemana-Baba (unassisted) 37
SCH -- Asayag (Sulemana-Baba) 40
EFC -- Camargo 48
SCH -- Asayag (Mitton) 54
EFC -- Pozo 63
Referee: Daniel Adcock
Time of Game: 1 hour and 34 minutes
Weather: Partly Cloudy and 48 degrees