The Forest Park Rangers switched gears with a revved up performance in the St. Albert Men’s Soccer League final.
The Rangers outscored the Impact Alumni 3-0 Sunday in the second of two matches in the aggregate format after losing last week’s playoff opener 2-1.
“We knew we were down by two and we just came out today and played it as a 0-0 game,” said striker Terry Esposito. “We knew we had to win, we just had to play hard and that’s what we did.”
The difference between the shutout victory and the one-goal setback for the Rangers was the spring in their step for the opening kick-off.
“Everyone came out a little bit more to play today,” Esposito said. “We’re really bad for starting slow. Usually as the game goes we pick it up so our game plan today was to make sure we start hard, make sure we get the first goal and keep it rolling form there. We sat back a little bit too much in the first game.”
Ryan Miller’s goal in the 17th minute, a well-placed ball past goalkeeper Chris Clarke, put the Rangers in position to clinch the championship.
“It was huge. We needed the first goal,” Esposito said. “We got the last one in the previous game (by Stephen Schiavone with four minutes to play), which gave us the momentum coming in, and we knew we had to pile onto that momentum by getting the first one early.”
At halftime, the referee informed the team captains she would be calling it tighter in response to complaints by both sides over the officiating.
The Impact picked up the pace to start the second half after a pedestrian 45 minutes but were unable to capitalize on a couple of corner kicks and a juicy free kick during a short span of intense pressure before the 69th minute.
The Rangers tightened their grip on the playoff cup with Esposito’s explosive marker in the 75th minute.
“I saw an opening and called for the ball. I knew I had to cut it back to get around the defender and just put it in the corner and made it happen,” said the elusive Esposito, this year’s Golden Boot scoring champion in the SAMSL regular season with 18 goals.
In the next minute, Amrit Saraf was hauled down by an Impact defender and the Rangers were awarded a penalty shot. Schiavone, arguably the Rangers’ best player in the playoffs as the generator in the midfield, made the Impact pay the price by finding the back of the net.
It went from bad to worse for the Impact as the referee red-carded a player three minutes after Schiavone’s goal and issued a yellow card a few minutes late.
The Impact players and coaches were not amused by the officiating while voicing their displeasure as time wound down and during the post-match handshakes.
“It looked like we were doing all right during the first half and then we got the red card and the yellow card and we kind of fell apart from there,” said Impact striker Jakob Beauchemin.
The Impact hung tough with the Rangers until the tide turned in the late stages of the match at Larry Olexiuk Field. “Once they got the one goal we tried our best to come back,” Beauchemin said. “It was a close game until they just blew us out (towards the end).”
Posting the shutout for the Rangers was Matt Bergin.
Kuzyk and Beauchemin were the Impact goal scores in game one at Salisbury field.
“We controlled and passed the ball a lot more during the 2-1 game,” Beauchemin said. “Maybe the turf today had an effect or maybe the grass is better for us.”
The Impact closed out the SAMSL campaign at 14-4-2 (67 GF/34 GA) as the second-place team in the regular season and playoffs.
“It was a great season. We were really good in the playoffs (5-1 record). It’s just unfortunate how it ended today,” said Beauchemin, 19, a graduate of Bellerose Composite High School.
The Rangers (16-3-1, 77GF/26 GA), formerly the SV Spurs before making their SAMSL debut last year, were on a mission after going 13-3-3 (49 GF/17 GA) in 2016 as the runners up for the playoff cup. In the aggregate final against Prestige Worldwide, the Rangers gave up two goals in the second half of the 2-2 stalemate in game one and in the next game the score was 1-1 at halftime and after the first 15-minute extra period. Prestige made it 2-1 two minutes into the last period and the Rangers evened the count four minutes later. However, an opportunistic header by Prestige with only seconds remaining before penalty kicks broke the Rangers’ hearts.
“It feels great to win it. Last year it was a bit of bad luck. We played hard, we played good, we were just riddled with injuries in the final games. We probably had six or seven guys hurt in that last game, big key players, so it was good to have everyone healthy. Everyone was able to come out and play 100 per cent. We knew we had to leave it all on the pitch and everyone was able to do that,” said Esposito, 25, a multiple playoff cup winner with the now-disbanded GSE (Green Street Elite).