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"This is our home and nobody comes into our house and beats us," said Niebles, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Galaxy in the 2002 MLS SuperDraft and played for the now-defunct New York Freedoms of the Pro-Select League last season. "We take it really serious and we're tying to keep up what we started."
A year after going undefeated at Maspeth's historic soccer venue, the Knights lost their season opener at the Oval, falling to the Reading Rage, 2-1, Saturday night.
The Knights jumped ahead 1-0 on a Chris Megaloudis goal in the 16th minute, but Reading scored two unanswered goals in the second half in the season opener for both clubs.
"They played their system, the long balls, putting balls in the box, and they took advantage of a couple of mistakes that we made, and we didn't play our game in the second half," said Knights second-year coach Dan Fisher. "We fell into their hands a little bit and they took control, and they just wanted it a bit more in the second half."
The new-look Knights, a mixture of veterans and collegiate players after exclusively operating as an Under-23 team the past two seasons, controlled the pace and outshot Reading 5-1 in the first half.
The Knights took a well-earned 1-0 lead in the 16th minute when newcomers Freddy Guiraw touched the ball back to Leonardo Asencio along the left sideline.
The former Long Island Rough Rider then pushed the ball behind the Reading defense - which pleaded unsuccessfully for the offside flag - and Megaloudis, a former McClancy standout from Jackson Heights, deftly touched the ball past Reading keeper Stash Graham from 16 yards out.
The Knights had chances to extend their lead, including a free kick by Niebles in the 27th minute that sailed wide to the right of the Rage net but were unable to find the net again.
"We didn't put them away," Niebles said. "We created chances and we didn't put them away. That's the reality."
Reading, a first-year PDL team after competing in the Pro-Select League last season, adjusted its formation in the second half.
The Rage switched to a 3-5-2 formation after playing the first half with four defenders and, with Graham's ability to punt the ball deep into the Knights' defensive third and a large target up front in Pat Stanco, Reading opted to play long ball.
The move resulted in two second-half goals, the first a header by Stanco in the 61st minute and the second a chip by Jorge Chapoy from the left of Knights keeper Billy Gatti in the 77th minute.
"In the first half we only had one guy up front and there was no one supporting him. We had more help up front with Pat, and that's when we got the breaks," said first-year Reading coach Seamus O'Connor.
"Our goalkeeper has an unbelievable punt so a lot of our stuff came off his punts and we worked on the breaks," the coach said.
The Knights desperately pushed numbers forward in an attempt to tie, but a half-volley in the box by Guiraw, a header by Daniel Leon and a Niebles' angled shot from 20 yards out all missed the mark in the final five minutes.
"The first half we kept possession of the ball, we knocked it around, we really looked good and got away from that in the second half," Fisher said. "We didn't play the quick touches on the ball; we didn't keep possession as well as we should have."
The Knights host the Vermont Voltage Friday at 8 p.m. before returning to the Oval to face the Rhode Island Stingrays Sunday at 5 p.m.
Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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