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Freedoms fall to Rough Riders in shoot-out

In the only remaining quarterfinal match of the D3 Pro Soccer League Playoffs, the Long Island Rough Riders, the Atlantic Conference champions, defeated the runner-up New York Freedoms in what one fan characterized as “the thrilla on Mitchell.”

The game was decided by the penalty kicks, after 120 minutes of merciless battle that ended in a 2-2 draw Sunday at the Mitchell Athletic Complex in Uniondale. The Rough Riders won the shoot-out 5-4.

The game started with a first-minute shocker. Freedoms’ attacking midfielder Jesse Van Saun received the ball in the box after a throw-in, created space for a shot and volleyed it in from 13 yards away past stunned Rough Riders’ goalie Billy Gatti, thus converting an unlikely opportunity into a 1-0 lead.

The Rough Riders knew then and there they were in for a rough and long ride. The ease with which the Freedoms scored cast doubts on the Rough Riders’ ability to stay in the game. However, after a few erratic defensive displays in the opening minutes, the Rough Riders consolidated their lines, took over the midfield to dominate it throughout the first half, exerting heavy pressure on Freedoms’ unrelenting defense.

The successive Rough Riders’ assaults materialized in the 20th minute. Forward Cordt Weinstein (28 points, 12 goals, 4 assists) broke through the middle and employed midfielder Brett Davis with an accurate pass. With defenders running at him, Davis confidently turned with the ball and sent it past Freedoms’ veteran goalkeeper Peter Zaratin, tying the game at 1-1.

Only four minutes later, the Rough Riders struck again. In the 24th minute, the Freedoms’ defense broke down before Rough Riders’ light-footed, offensive-minded left full back Edgar Bartholomew. Bartholomew, a constant threat down the left flank, left a defender on the ground with a spine-breaking dribble, sprinted past another and crossed sharply, forcing Kevin Daly, who attempted to clear, to put the ball into his own net.

The Rough Riders were up 2-1 and coming for more, while the Freedoms hung on, looking to strike back on counterattacks through their powerhouse forward Rocky Bojovic (27 points, 11 goals, 5 assists.)

The patience paid off for the Freedoms in the 36th minute when midfielder Ben Hickey headed it home to tie the score at 2-2 from 10 yards on a cross by defender Mario Gallo from the left side.

Although the Rough Riders continued to threaten Zaratin’s net, mostly after Bartholomew’s jaw-dropping dribbles down the left flank and Weinstein’s and Christer Arnesen’s breaking through the middle, the first half ended at 2-2. Fans, hoping for the excitement of the first half to continue into the second, braced for more goals.

In the second half, the Rough Riders loosened the knot around Freedoms’ penalty box and the game transformed into a battle of the center field, with Freedoms relying on their wingers to lead the attack.

In the 46th minute, Bartholomew was helped off the field with a hurt thigh and although he was back three minutes later, he was not his old self the rest of the game, thus significantly weakening the Rough Riders’ offense.

“[A defender] hit my thigh with his knee,” Bartholomew said after the game. “It hurt. I couldn’t move around so well.”

The second half was scoreless, but both teams pressed the action, and the play became more physical. Great opportunities were succeeding one another on both ends, with the likeliest coming from Rough Riders’ Davis in the 74th minute when he missed a two-shot opportunity to secure the victory for his team.

Davis received the ball in the open middle of the box and found himself eye-to-eye with Zaratin. Aiming for the lower right corner, Davis hit the post, got the rebound, and, with Zaratin on the ground, fired the ball over the undefended goal from seven yards away.

Reach contributing writer Vladimir Ivkovic by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130

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