Maidstone Market wound up an undefeated season in the Wednesday evening 7-on-7 men’s soccer league on July 20, defeating Tortorella Pools 2-0 in a playoff final that, while played toe-to-toe throughout, was decided essentially by two Tortorella defensive errors and two highly promising offensive chances that miscarried.
Both goalies, Alex Meza for the Market and Duvan Castro for Tortorella, turned in eye-catching performances. Meza, who was helped by a tenacious defense, seemed always to be a step ahead of the insurgents’ attackers. Castro, except for the two above-mentioned scores, was every bit Meza’s equal.
Diego Marles, the Market’s big center forward, who, with his back to the goal, frequently chested down and held long passes he’d received before wheeling and feeding either Gehider Garcia, the league’s “golden boot” winner, or Luis Correa, who has frequently been the league’s high scorer in the past, put Maidstone on the board about five minutes into the fray.
The scoring play began with Marles intercepting a misdirected clear attempt by Rodolfo Marin in the middle of the offensive end, after which he and Garcia, who faked a straight-on shot before dishing off to Marles at the left of Tortorella’s goal, worked their magic.
By the time Castro had redirected his attention from Garcia to Marles, the ball was well on its way into the nets at shoulder height.
Gary Easlick, Tortorella’s high-scoring English-born center forward, narrowly missed tying the score soon after as he banged a shot off the near post, having received the ball from Eddie Lopez, who had stolen it from the Market’s Roger Quinceno.
And just before the half ended, Easlick was presented with an even better opportunity, a head-high cross from Marin finding the tall striker unmarked at the near post. As Easlick went up, everyone on Tortorella’s side of the field was thinking “sure goal,” but the hard-hit header rebounded off the far post as Meza, frozen to the spot, looked helplessly to his left.
During the break, Easlick, after praising the defensive play of Andres Arango, who had been sticking like glue to Marles, cautioned against overcommitting defensively with the dangerous Garcia and Correa also in the mix.
“It’s only 1-0 — they’re worried,” Easlick said to his teammates. “But we’re not getting to the second 50-50 balls. We’ve got to support each other, and switch the field with our passes, which we were doing in the beginning. Keep playing our game.”
A back-header into the goal mouth in the opening minutes of the second half bounced tantalizingly toward Easlick, who, for a moment, as Meza was dashing back, faced a partially open cage. But Tortorella’s striker couldn’t get around on the ball, and just as soon as the opportunity had presented itself it vanished.
As the teams fought on, darkness began to descend upon the Herrick Park field, and Leslie Czeladko, the league’s spokesman and Tortorella’s player-manager, had — with a bit of difficulty because he didn’t have the permit in hand — the lights turned on, but not until after Castro had made a sliding save that foiled Marles one-on-one.
After Castro had stopped another spot-on shot by Marles with about five minutes left, Lopez gamely fought through two Market defenders down the left sideline and passed into the middle, only to find that no one on his team was there.
Meanwhile, the Market, whose coach, John Romero, ran players in from the sidelines throughout the game without having to worry about a fall-off in performance, continued to put pressure on Tortorella’s determined but tiring defenders.
Near the game’s end, Arango slipped as Marles dribbled with the ball at the left side of Tortorella’s goal, and Castro too fell to the ground in rushing out, opening things up for Correa, who banged the clinching shot home after Marles had crossed the ball to him.
With that score, a big yell arose from the Market’s side of the field. Moments later, the celebrating began in earnest.