Goliaths flex muscles against Riverdale

[audio:http://www.torontoobserver.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/flowers_podcast_soccer.mp3|titles=flowers_podcast_soccer]With plenty of new players on the soccer pitch, the East York Goliaths knew they would have to rely heavily on some familiar faces for leadership this season.

Fifth-year midfielder Isuf Hysenaj led the way with three goals as the Goliaths overpowered the Riverdale Raiders 5-1 on Monday afternoon at East York Memorial Stadium.

“[With all the young guys we have], my biggest role is to keep calm,” said the 18-year-old.  “I also have to help everybody out with their struggles, and try and get some goals for the team, just the basics of soccer.”

Coming off a successful 2009 season that saw them win a silver medal at the OFSAA provincial championships, the Goliaths brought up several junior players this year, and it showed in a shaky start to the game.

“Well, we have 12 new players, so we have to gel again as a team,” said head coach Tom Drivas.  “That’s what I told them inside.

“We have to start getting to know each other.  They know each other in the classroom, but on the field we have to start gelling again, and that will come, I’m not worried about that.”

Early Raider pressure

The lack of cohesion was evident in the first 10 minutes of play as the underdog Raiders put the pressure on and kept possession of the ball. But the Goliaths managed to maintain their composure to keep the game scoreless.

Drivas says his team’s strongest aspect is ball possession, and they slowly began to take control, breaking the deadlock eight minutes into the first half.

Hysenaj took a corner kick that eluded the Raiders defenders, landing on the leg of striker Jack Atkinson who buried it to give his team a 1-0 lead, and the momentum mounted from there.

Four minutes later, the captain led a rush down the right side, made a beautiful move to elude a defender and stuffed the ball in the right corner of the net to increase the lead 2-0.

From there, the Goliaths only seemed to get stronger. They attacked the visitors’ defence at every opportunity rather than sitting back and taking a cautious approach.

“If you’re getting results, you shouldn’t change [the way you play],” said the 22-year head coach.  “So what we say is ‘pressure, pressure, pressure’.  Make them make mistakes and hopefully we can capitalize on those mistakes.”

Hysenaj took advantage of a mental gaffe by a Raiders defender, who attempted an ill-advised challenge on the ball, allowing the 18-year-old to streak in on the right side and use his left foot to notch his second goal of the game for a 3-0 lead.

The captain added to his MVP-like performance with his third goal of the match at the 20 minute mark of the second half on a cheeky kick that fooled the goalkeeper, giving his team a 4-1 advantage.

“I know Isuf is one hell of a ball player,” said Drivas.  “He’s our captain, and other teams know that if you don’t stop him you’re not going to stop us.”

Defence plays solidly

While the offence drew much of the praise, the defence was stingy enough to only allow one goal at the 29 minute mark of the first half when East York was already up by three.

“We kept the ball away from the back line most of the time,” defender Jorgo Nika said.  “We worked well up front in finding the channels, finishing, so we didn’t have much work to do.

“I’m disappointed they scored the goal, but that’s alright.”

Despite the positive outcome, the coach was quick to point out areas his team needs to improve upon.

“I’d like to see more direct passes instead of horizontal play,” he said.  “Get some more vertical play and more shots on goal would be nice, but all of those things can be fixed.”

His squad will have two days for some fine-tuning before their next match, on Wednesday against Jarvis Collegiate.