PATERSON, NJ - Under bright sunny skies on a beautiful autumn afternoon, not one, not two, but three soccer games were played simultaneously at Pennington Park. The activity provided tribute to the complete renovation of the recreation hub over the last few years.
“This has been a dream of our coaches to have freshman, junior varsity, and varsity compete at the same time on our home fields,” John F. Kennedy High School Athletic Director Scott Durham stated, prior to the contests. “This is the second time this season that all three fields will be in use at the same time. We have over 75 kids in our soccer program. Our next goal is to acquire a soccer scoreboard.”
The marquee matchup featured Kennedy’s varsity squad against that of the Passaic Technical County Institute (PCTI). Played on the largest field which features ample seating and a press box, the Knights were able to stave off a furious, late rally by the Bulldogs to prevail by a score of 4-3.
Kennedy controlled the initial possession but Bulldogs’ senior midfielder Juan Gonzalez shook loose for a fast break which, in turn, was broken up at the last moment by the Knights’ freshman sensation Tony Diaz. JFK senior Richard Castro fired a nifty pass to sophomore Luis Portillo after which a penalty against PCTI brought up a free kick. Only a brilliant, diving save by Tech’s junior goalkeeper Osvaldo Romero prevented a score.
Soon thereafter, PCTI’s John Navito and Kennedy sophomore midfielder Jesus Martinez mixed it up near midfield and the Knights were awarded another free kick. However, the bullet sped directly into the hands of Kennedy junior goalkeeper Brandon Parra.
The Knights next offensive thrust featured passes between Martinez and senior back Jessie Mendieta but Romero was again able to gain control. A spectacular behind the back kick by Castro and fancy footwork by Martinez led to a promising shot on goal by JFK junior midfielder Danny Gutierrez but did not connect. PCTI countered with a rally led by forward Joshua Virgil, junior Ryan Gonzalez, and sophomore Christian Adame but access to the net was again denied. A block by junior Bulldog Jiovanny Perez and a headshot by Gonzalez then stymied a pair of Kennedy fast breaks.
Following a skirmish at midfield between Passaic County’s junior Steven Brown and JFK sophomore forward Christopher Chavarria, a rocket pass from the Knights’ Castro to Gutierrez led to a shot on goal but the kick sailed wide left.
Martinez was instrumental in the initial score of the game and served as overseer at center field, enabling Kennedy to control offensive possession for most of the first half. Midway through, PCTI offered one of their few shots on goal during the initial period but Virgil’s attempt was stopped. A contact penalty against the Bulldogs resulted in a Knights’ free kick which was also to no avail. Only sensational defensive intervention by PCTI’s junior back Abraham Ramirez prevented a second Kennedy goal. Another scoring attempt by the Knights, this one a searing, long, left-footed boot by Portillo flew just above the net. Holding onto their one-point lead, the Knights attempted to play cat and mouse near midfield but Tech’s junior forward Kevin Martinez intercepted a pass, only to have the Knights soon return the favor. A headshot by Kennedy’s Martinez preceded a long kick past midfield by Romero from in front of the Bulldogs’ net. To the dismay of the sizable crowd, Virgil was then knocked to the turf and lay motionless for several minutes. However, the Bulldog junior was able, with assistance, to limp to the sidelines to warm applause by fans from both sides.
A pickpocket by Kennedy near midfield led to an inbounds pass by JFK senior Christian Sanchez but an ensuing Kennedy rally fell short. A Tech three-on-two fast break featuring crisp passes from Joseph Chapparo to Daniel Sanchez enabled Martinez to wind up from a 45-degree angle to the left of goal but the shot jetted wide. A rescue of a loose ball by Mendieta was followed by a save by Romero and an offsides infraction against the Bulldogs. Several nice passes by Kennedy senior midfielder David Rojas saw the Knights travel deep into PCTI territory but the collaboration yielded no fruit.
An acrobatic behind the back boot by Sanchez proved promising but a scoring attempt by Rojas missed the mark. A side-armed throw by the PCTI goalie almost reached midfield and Tech junior back Jiovanny Perez blocked a Kennedy shot attempt. After Virgil collided with a Kennedy defender, the Knights’ senior back Justin Pajuelo was awarded a free kick with the attempt stymied by a PCTI header. The halftime whistle blew with Kennedy holding a precarious 2-0 lead.
Momentum shifted as Passaic Tech was able to score all of their goals during the second period. Senior Juan Campillo Casas notched a pair of goals while junior Gianfranco Loli added one and Virgil and Adame each registered an assist.
Early in the second half, Kennedy sophomore Jesus Martinez and Chavarria played keepaway from Bulldog defenders but were unable to score. After Loli and Martinez eluded several opponents, a foul was whistled on the Knights. Gonzalez fired a fierce liner toward the net but Parra was able to make a diving stop. A wild exchange followed in which Tech’s Perez and JFK’s Portillo dueled down the left sideline as Chavarria and PCTI’s Ryan Gonzalez collided. When the dust had settled, the Knights were awarded a free shot which saw Portilla one-on-one with the Bulldog’s goalkeeper. The sophomore forward’s shot found the left, upper corner of the net for a score.
Late in the contest, the Knights’ Jahiem Clearly enjoyed what was perhaps the only true, clean breakaway opportunity during the tense defensive struggle. However, as the junior forward, all alone, dribbled the ball past midfield and prepared for a one-on-one showdown with the PCTI goalie, an offsides whistle sounded and precluded what would have surely been a sensational showdown.
Soon thereafter, the Bulldogs were able to slip behind the Kennedy defense and score. Not ready to give up yet, Pajuelo was able to counter for the Knights with another Kennedy free kick score from in front of PCTI’s net.
In a moment of comic relief, soccer’s version of an air ball unfolded. A Passaic Tech player was wide open and took plenty of time to prepare for a 15-yard shot on goal, but whiffed. Shortly following, incredible ball handling by Kennedy’s Juan Esteban Comejo drew “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd.
The Knights next game will be at home against Clifton on Thursday, October 29, at 4:00 p.m.
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