SDCCU Stadium- San Diego, California
1904 fell 2-1 to the LA Force on Saturday in a competitively fought match that ultimately brought an end to San Diego’s debut season in the National Independent Soccer League. San Diego’s 1904 FC needed a win to advance to the championship, and Los Angeles just needed to win or tie.
The match began at 19:04 in front of a solid crowd with the fan group The Outsiders loudly chanting for the San Diego side. From the initial kick-off, both teams were using the entire width of the field with long lengthy passes that sent each team’s forwards to opposite sides. Every ball was highly contested, and there was a lot of contact between opposing players.
In the 29th minute, attempting to recover after LA Force split the 1904 defense, Abdouleye Cissoko tackled an LA Force forward who had the ball eight yards from the top of 1904s penalty box. Cissoko stopped the attack but was giving a yellow card for the harsh challenge. In the 32 minute, LA Force scored the first goal of the night, with a free-kick that was a result of Cissoko’s foul just a minute earlier. Los Angeles’s Alvaro Madrigal Zavala struck the back of the net with a curved shot over the head of the San Diego wall and out of reach for Antoine, 1904’s keeper.
As the match progressed longer into the first half, the challenges got harder, and the physicality of the play intensified. In the 44th minute, LA Force intercepted a pass in mid-field between two of 1904’s defensemen. That set up a quick pass to a charging LA attacker that remained onside to create a one-on-one with San Diego’s goalie. Antoine charged out of the net to the top of the box, where he met the forward with a foot tackle. The forward tripped and was stopped. The ref blew his whistle, ran to the scene of the foul, and presented a red card to the San Diego keeper. Jean Antoine’s night was cut short as he argued his case against the red card. He eventually made his way toward the sideline after being replaced by Marcus Norris.
After the red card, LA Force took full advantage of the free-kick from the top of the box. Madrigal-Zavala hammered a low and directed shot off a deflection from the free-kick that bounced off of 1904’s wall. The strike in the 46th minute, caught 1904’s keeper off guard as the ball found the right corner of the goal just out of Norris’s reach.
Stunned, San Diego ended the first half facing an uphill battle. Trailing by two points, down a man and in desperate need of a victory, 1904 FC came out in the second half with a sense of urgency. San Diego was pressing hard and worked to make the most of any of their opportunities. In the 60th minute, San Diego’s Nelson Blanco delivered a lob into the center of the Los Angeles box that was aimed for the head of 1904’s Ozzie Ramos. LA Force’s keeper met the ball with his fist but not before he ran into the back of Ramos, who took the hit and rolled on the ground like Neymar from the 2018 World Cup. Los Angeles was penalized with a yellow card for the goalie and a penalty kick. Moe Espinoza took the PK with confidence and curled it into the left side of the net. Espinoza quickly grabbed the ball from the back of the net and ran it back to midfield.
San Diego was fighting for another goal. Their chances for a shot at the championship match was on life support. Despite being down a player, 1904 relentlessly kept on looking for the key to an equalizing goal. As the seconds ticked into 81st minute, Los Angeles had begun to make a concentrated effort on bolstering up their defense and limiting any risk of giving up a goal.
1904 was starting to show signs of impatience by diving in with hard tackles to pry the ball free from LA’s control. With every hard tackle that San Diego delivered, the LA Force took full advantage of any opportunity they could to let the clock run and petition their arguments to the referee.
In the 86th minute, 1904 was awarded a free kick about five yards from LA’s penalty box. Espinoza took a hard shot that bounced off the LA wall back to his feet for another crack that sailed just inches over the Los Angeles crossbar.
As the match and 1904’s season came to a close, the final whistle sounded off throughout SDCCU Stadium. San Diego fought hard, but the two goals they needed to win proved elusive. The match was well regulated, with LA earning four yellow cards and San Diego earning two yellows and one red. The red card delivered to Antoine proved to be a devastating blow to 1904’s strategy and, ultimately, the key to their demise.
The match’s result earned LA three points and catapulted them into first place in NISA’s western division. San Diego will end its 2019 season in third place in the west division with two wins and three losses.
1904’s manager Alex Gontran shared his thoughts on his team’s performance,”I’m disappointed because of the result, but I like the feeling I have with the players in the second half, they fought very hard with ten men, they did what they could, but that’s football, you can not fault us for that, you have a plan, but you have to change.”
The regretful feeling over the night’s loss was overshadowed by the overwhelming gratitude, mutual admiration, and respect that 1904 and their supporters have grown to share throughout the season. The fans were proud of their team. 1904 FC team showed they were grateful to fight for and earn their way into the hearts of the San Diego community. “I am very proud and honored to coach this young team; we were only giving eleven weeks together, and did not play with each other before. The results are not there, but they will be for the next season,” said Gontran. After a winter break, 1904 FC will start on their spring season in March 2020 with a goal to grow and expand upon the inroads they created in San Diego during their inaugural season.
Gontran elaborated on his objectives, moving forward with the team. “We will be better for sure, more mature, I think the team will change a bit, maybe different players too, but the team will move forward into the spring season.”