TEANECK, N.J. – Hakoah started the new season on the right foot, defeating Oakland Strikers 4-1 at University Stadium on Sunday evening.
Saeed Sulemana-Baba led the way with three goals for the home side, the first coming less than two minutes after kickoff off of a pass from captain Harel Nahar. Nahar took advantage of Oakland's lax marking and rolled a pass to Sulemana-Baba that he slipped into the back of the net from a tough angle.
The striker nearly doubled the lead several minutes later, when he took on his marker and created enough space to fire a shot from distance toward the upper ninety. This time, however, the crossbar came to Oakland's rescue.
The sky blues were encouraged by the return of Sjur Gundersen to the midfield after a long injury layoff, and he nearly got on the scoresheet in the 18th minute. A powerfully struck goal kick by Mathieu Gouverneur sent Sulemana-Baba racing into the attacking third. He managed to control the ball and square it to the onrushing Gundersen whose first time attempt flew over the bar.
Hakoah did not have to wait too much longer for a second goal. In the 23rd minute, a quick one-two combination between Nahar and Sulemana-Baba sent the striker through on goal, and the Oakland goalkeeper got a glove on Sulemana-Baba's carefully placed shot but could not prevent the ball from going in.
On a day when Hakoah's defensive corps of Ofir Singal, Eyal Yechezkell, Mathieu Gouverneur and German Dubovis was in top form, a single costly mistake restored some balance to the game. Starting goalkeeper Alex Nazarov attempted to call off his defenders as he came out to claim a high bouncing ball, but when he did not immediately appear, Gouverneur nodded the ball back in his direction. Nazarov's momentum carried him past the ball and it bounded into the empty net to make it 2-1.
Disciplinary actions took center stage in the middle of the match, as players began to tire and play became a bit sloppier. In the 36th minute, Singal was cautioned for a late challenge that stopped an Oakland counterattack, and two minutes later Jonah Silk was shown a yellow for his forceful disagreement with a refereeing decision. The visitors earned a card of their own for a reckless tackle and a professional foul on either side of halftime.
The most consequential decision, however, came late in the second half when Silk found himself all alone with the ball at his feet in the attacking third and Oakland's keeper shot off his line to bring him down and deny a goalscoring opportunity. The referee walked slowly to the spot of the foul, reached into his pocket, and pulled out only a yellow card.
At that point, though, it was academic, as Silk had already helped the home side stretch its lead in the 61st minute with a precise cross from the wing that Sulemana-Baba settled and coolly slotted in. That goal seemed to reenergize Hakoah, and a flurry of chances followed. The combination of early season rust and strong play from the Oakland keeper kept Hakoah out of the net until the 81st minute, when Silk and debutant Zushye Kestenbaum were sent racing in on goal with a perfectly weighted pass from midfielder Casey Mitton. Silk opted to take the chance himself, rocketing the ball past the keeper to cap the scoring.
SCH -- Sulemana-Baba (Nahar) 2nd minute
SCH -- Sulemana-Baba (Nahar) 23rd minute
OAK -- own goal (Gouverneur) 28th minute
SCH -- Sulemana-Baba (Silk) 61st minute
SCH -- Silk (Mitton) 81st minute