Season 38 Round 36 / 60
Game Time 2024 Jun 16, 17:39 UTC(+00:00)

[USDN] Dragons Take The Cup, Texas Win NT on Pens

Published by   US Divisions Network at 2023-07-10 20:20 (11 months ago)

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With two finals and a treble on the line for Black Dragons, many thought Angus would lead his side to victory in both competitions. Speaking in a press conference about his club’s new kit for Season 28, even Adam spoke of how the Texas fans were “dreading another cup final loss.” Some berated the competition of play in the US, saying it was starting to be dominated by the same clubs every season. While the Big 6 do dominate often in the league, no match will be exactly the same, and so it proved here.

After the end of the league season, both teams eagerly awaited Round 53 and the League Cup final. When it came time to announce the teamsheets, Black Dragons were, unsurprisingly, the favorites on paper. Angus’s starting XI was unchanged from the two team’s last meeting in the League, with a 3-4-3 diamond being kept as wide as possible. The only exception was, instead of Edwardo Smith pushing in to almost form a striker pair with the out-and-out striker Faulkner Fahad, it would be Keven Vyntra to do so. For Texas, the formation became less attacking, as Adam made the controversial move to replace captain Sorrel López with right-back Aziz Hassan. This saw them set up in a roughly 5-2-3, though left-back Kannan Mohar would be instructed to get more forward alongside Mu’ayyad Bitar to create more of a 4-3-3.

After they kicked off, Texas had an incredibly early chance chalked off for offside. They would get the ball back soon after, but it also wasn’t long before the Dragons grew into the game, and eventually they pushed the game into a back and forth, with both goalkeepers being tested at times. After a goal kick by Kassim Adam, Edwardo Smith would crash into Mohar while trying to get in front of the goal kick, earning a free kick for Texas. However, a solid Vyntra tackle meant the ball was soon going in the other direction. After some smooth passing play around Texas players, captain Tapia booted the ball long into the feet of Naseer, who in turn let it go from a little outside the box. It hit the top corner and went in to an uproar of Dragons fans once again. Soon after kickoff, Dragons had the ball once again, and would mostly hold on to it until the end of the first half.

After the break, it was Texas’s turn to come back fighting, wrestling and keeping possession for much of the early minutes of the half. Around the hour mark, Texas’s defensive mentality and set up was thrown out, with youngster Espina put on for Hassan, and Bitar moving back to half-cover the space that Hassan was occupying. Despite this, Black Dragons would get the ball back on multiple occasions after this, including after Espina was caught narrowly offside trying to reach a Mohar long ball. Another well constructed set of passes later, including Vyntra dribbling past Ali, and the Dragons forward was in on goal. Another top corner goal, then, would double their advantage in the 74th. An all too familiar sight and sound took place as the joy of Dragons fans was met with both boos and crying out from the Texas fans. After a fierce last fifteen or so minutes, the final whistle blew. Black Dragons had beaten Texas once again and were therefore one step closer to completing a second successive domestic treble.

Adam knew this going into the National Trophy Final, the more watched and perhaps the more important of the two, in Round 56. Confident that his side would overcome once again, Angus’s side was this time completely unchanged from the League Cup final, even down to the subs bench. On the other hand, Adam would make some key changes. Though the front three and back three would stay the same, he noticed that Dragons lacked a true presence in central midfield. So, he took a risk, instructing Bitar to stay central, and paired him with Lee Byers, taking Hassan back of the lineup. Mohar would also move back, resulting in a mostly traditional looking, narrow 4-4-2 diamond. While he knew this would leave Dragons players able to operate more freely on the wings, Adam hoped to keep the ball central and create overloads that would allow them to play through and attack the Dragons backline. Despite this play, on paper they were still the weaker team.

After kicking off, they would lose the ball in less than two minutes. Dragons then struck with incredible ferocity, with McCoy playing a through ball to a wide-open Naseer, who would ping a ball from way out, shocking Kassim Adam and leaving him frozen on his line. This looked like it would turn out to be even more of a rout than the League Cup Final still fresh in the memory of all involved. Texas kicked off once again, continuing to keep the ball circulating around their midfield diamond. Then, Dragons would get the ball back, and serve out a volley of shots, resulting in several corners. After a tense period around the half-hour mark, though, Texas would clear the ball, and mostly keep hold of the ball, save for a few times when Black Dragons would get possession back, drive forward, but then be repelled by the defensive efforts of the Texas front line.

Though trailing 1-0 coming out of the half, the Texans would see more or less all of the ball for the next 20 minutes, attacking with more ferocity. To lead this surge, captain López would come on for Byers around the 60th minute. Soon after, after getting the ball back after a Dragons offside, López would play the ball into Hasni, who would get it to TJ, then Bitar, and back to Hasni. His shot from distance would be parried by Holloway to concede a corner. Though they had corners earlier in the match, this one was one where the momentum was on their side. Speaking after the match about the moment, Adam said, “I wanted Bitar on the pitch because he's my set piece taker. And lo and behold…” Bitar sent the ball hurtling towards the near post, and Wallner made contact with a strong header. Holloway would get a hand out, but the shot was inch perfect. Texas fans who had previously been subdued, expecting none of the rest of the game to go their way, jumped back into life. After the Dragons kicked off, their attacking momentum seemed to die down a bit, though they did take a few shots on goal. Holloway was shaken a bit, and with 10 minutes left of regular time, his goal kick went astray. The game threatened to boil over as, at 90+2’, Abdallah Hendrix climbed onto Bitar in attempts to claim Kassim Adam’s goal kick. But the referees kept things under control. Things were going to extra time!

With both sides looking a bit tired, extra time passed without any goals. In the first half, things seemed pretty even , but in the second half, Texas began to look the more pressing threat, keeping hold of the ball more and making good runs. But they would at every occasion be neutralized by the Dragons defenders. So the game would go down to penalties. After some discussion and the coin toss, Black Dragons would be going first. Edwardo Smith went for power, putting it beyond Adam’s gloves. Danauskas was up next, but he skied it, to the delight of Dragons fans in the crowd. But they were soon silenced by Adam’s heroics, saving Vyntra’s effort cleanly. Hasni came next, but he, too, put his shot too high and wide off the mark. With Naseer putting his calmly away, Wallner had to score to prevent Dragons from running away. The goalscorer in normal time converted here, too, despite Holloway connecting with fingertips, to keep Texas in. Mukhtar’s effort would, cruelly, hit the bottom of the post and bounce out, and López would level with another dangerously close strike. Both Canales and Bitar would score next, with either goalkeeper going the right way but not far enough to save. Hakim Ross stepped up next, but his shot would be saved by Adam. TJ Rakotondramanana took a deep breath. Score, and he would win the Trophy for his team. He struck the ball hard, and despite the best efforts of Holloway, the ball would reach the side netting with ease. All of the frustration from the times they fell to Black Dragons melted away, and the squad ran to celebrate with TJ and their fans. Savo Naseer received the Man of the Match award, but behind him, Adam and his squad could be seen jumping around, screaming at the walls of Texas fans that shook the stadium with equal vigor.

Last updated by   US Divisions Network at 2023-07-10 20:20 (11 months ago)