The Impact Alumni return to the playoff cup final in a blaze of glory.
Last year’s runner-up defeated the defending champion Forest Park Rangers in the St. Albert Men’s Soccer League semifinals, and today’s final against the DV Youngmen kicks off at 1 p.m. at Riel Park.
“I’m pumped for the game. Hopefully, we can get that gold medal,” said striker Adam King, who poured in two goals against Forest Park in Tuesday’s 4-1 decision.
The two-game aggregate semifinal format started with Sunday’s 2-2 draw as the Impact rallied twice to even the score with Forest Park on goals by Alex (Scotty) Sinclair, a former Rummie from SAMSL’s golden era, and Sasa Borojevic.
“It was back and forth. We were always down one coming back,” King said. “This time it was all about keeping it simple and everyone played their roles.”
The surprising Youngmen advanced into their first SAMSL final with Sunday’s 3-1 win over Prestige Worldwide, who forfeited Tuesday’s game in the aggregate series.
In the regular season, the Impact (8-1-6, 51 GF/21 GA) captured the pennant and the Youngmen (7-6-2, 38 GF/30 GA) placed third in the six-team table.
Scores were 3-3 and 2-2 between the teams in league play, and in the playoffs the Impact are 3-0-1 and the Youngmen are 4-0.
“They’re coming on strong. They’re going to be tough opponents. They give it their all. They work hard,” King said of the Youngmen, led offensively by Scott Nevison, Justin (Melo) Melton and Jerry Ledinski as the trio finished among the top-10 SAMSL scorers.
The Impact’s most dangerous threat is newcomer Vince Bustamante, the second-highest SAMSL scorer with 13 goals. Bustamante also tallied twice against Forest Park and his penalty shot in the 64th minute made it 3-1.
“He’s huge. He’s the captain. He’s the leader. He brings everyone up when we’re down. He’s our everything,” King said.
A retooled lineup has the Impact on the verge of a championship season.
“We have more bodies out which keeps us fresh, and we’re all supporting each other. Everyone has picked a role and really stuck to it which is the meaning of a team,” King said. “We definitely had some awesome additions come to the team like Vince, who just gives us a nice rock in the middle, but the big thing is just getting familiar with everybody. Last year was our first year as a team and in our second year we know each other a little bit more and that obviously plays into it with the chemistry between the guys.”
As for the seven ties in 19 league and playoff matches, “our problem is we’ve had games where we make one mistake per half and we get scored on and that kind of hurt us a little bit here (in Tuesday’s match), but we would dig in and we would find that last goal. That’s where a lot of our ties came from was just last-ditch efforts by our team, which is really impressive for us,” King said.
The semifinal with Forest Park was a replay of last year’s aggregate final with the Impact winning Game 1 3-1 and the Rangers were victorious 3-0 in the next match.
This year’s final is the winner-takes-all showdown.
“This way is better. The final is supposed to be the last game for all the marbles on the table,” King said.
Terry Esposito, the Golden Boot scoring leader with 14 goals in the regular season, opened Tuesday’s scoring in the 16th minute for Forest Park against goalkeeper Jason Krebes.
Five minutes later, Sinclair rattled a shot off the post after a spirited run into the Forest Park zone.
In the 23rd minute, Krebes stood his ground against the dangerous Esposito, who was cursing himself afterwards over failing to capitalize on the golden opportunity.
Before the half ended, Bustamante unloaded a heavy shot that goalkeeper Matt Bergin got a piece of with his hands but not enough to stop the ball from sailing into the net.
Four minutes after the break, the shifty King snaked his way past Bergin, who was caught out of position charging out of his crease, and from the left side sent a low shot into the right bottom corner of the net.
“It was a nice through-ball for me and I potted it in. I just put my head down and kept running. It was just a nice breakaway, an easy run past the keeper to finish it off,” said King, who deposited his second goal in the 79th minute to seal the deal. “That was a good goal. My other striker partner (Marcello Cimino) put a little ball in square to me and I just took a few touches in, got in front of the defender and just slotted it home short side.”
The Impact held the upper hand in ball possession and territory advantage despite a shortage of subs compared to the wave of bodies Forest Park kept rolling out.
As the match wound down, verbal darts were exchanged on the sideline between Sinclair and Phil Linehan, Forest Park’s big guy, over issues on the pitch.
“It was a good game by both sides. They put their all into it,” said King, 22, a St. Francis Xavier High School graduate in his second SAMSL season after Edmonton District Soccer Association stints with the Impact, Croatia Hajduk and AS Roma.
Forest Park, who benefited from goals by Matt Starcheski and Rylan Durocher in Sunday’s stalemate, and Prestige will play for the third-place trophy today at 11 a.m.
Forest Park (8-4-3) and Prestige (6-6-3) placed second and fourth, respectively, in league play and head-to-head Prestige won 2-1 and 3-2.