The Rye Garnets stepped up in their toughest test of the young soccer season by kayoing Keio Academy 3-1 at home Saturday, September 26. Following a couple of lackluster ties and wins over weaker opponents, the Red and Black took on the recent State champions, who were coming off an outstanding win over Byram Hills, snapping Byram’s three-year unbeaten streak.
The game started out with Rye pressing the advantage to little avail. By the 20- minute mark, each side had strung together some nice passing sequences without creating any real scoring opportunities. Then, on their second corner kick in a minute, Keio struck. Using a play similar to the one Rye uses on corners, Jun Fujisaku struck a low ball to the top of the box in the direction of an oncoming player who dummied the ball, leaving it for Kazumasa Ikenaga, the Unicorns’ leading scorer. Ikenaga struck a tremendous one-timer past outstretched Rye keeper Michael Linehan into the lower left corner.
With just over one minute remaining in the first half, Rye seemed certain to even the score. Arber Xhema and Juan Chang combined for a series of give-and-go’s near the top of the box. Xhema found himself with only the keeper to beat but somehow put his shot a few feet wide. While the missed opportunity seemed
a bad portent going into halftime, it proved a preview of Rye’s second-half domination.
From the opening whistle after the break, Jared Small’s crew turned up the
intensity. If possession was about 50/50 in the first half, it was
closer to 70/30 in Rye’s favor in the second half, added in part by an injury to Keio’s senior midfielder, Masaki Kakishita. Juan Chang converted
a Tim Lonergan throw in four minute s in to even the score. A few
minutes later, Derek Totten, who’d just entered the match, flicked a ball with his head to midfielder Chris Livingston to the left of Keio’s goal. Livingston had been having a tough game up to that point, surrendering possession under pressure in midfield on more than one occasion. This time, though, he came through gloriously, one-timing the ball to the far right post past Keio’s goalkeeper, Kojyun Masuko, setting off a raucous celebration among the crowd of 400+, including travel team players who put on a half-time exhibition.
Chang converted a Livingston breakaway in the 76th minute to ice the match, and then barely missed the hat trick a minute later when his left-footed rocket ricocheted off the crossbar.
Nearly every Rye player put forth his finest match of the season, with central midfielders Xhema and Brandon Robinson winning control of the center of the pitch in the second half. Luis Del Pezo had a huge impact on the match, generating and sustaining countless attacking sequences with his trademark confidence and poise on the ball. Solid performances from outside backs JP Barrett and Henry Gager complemented the play of two of the finest center backs in Class A — Tim Lonergan and Ian Robinson. Lonergan’s uncanny ability to know when to leave his man and go for the incoming ball would have made collegiate defenders turn green with envy.
Keio dropped to a deceiving 4-4, with its other losses coming to Class AA Scarsdale, Arlington, and White Plains in overtime. Expect Keio to roll through the rest of its league schedule. Meanwhile, Rye moves to 4-1-3 and can now focus on the meat of its schedule, with six matches against three league rivals — last year’s Class A State Finalist Harrison, Port Chester, and Byram Hills — as well as two challenging Class AA non-league matches with Mamaroneck and nationally-ranked (#9) MLK.