The biggest signing of the offseason paid off for Forward Madison as Wojciech Wojcik scored in the 30th minute of the team’s 2020 opener at North Texas, but it wasn’t enough as the defending champions rode goals from Benjamin Redzic and Ronaldo Damus to a 2-1 victory.
The match nearly turned very early, as the first forward pass of the game was about a 60-yard long ball from Jalen Crisler that found JC Banks in the North Texas penalty area, where he was taken down from behind by Lamar Batista just 12 seconds into the match. But referee Matthew Corrigan was not interested.
For much of the match, Madison was content to allow North Texas the bulk of the possession and frustrate their attempts to move forward.
“For the most part, most of the possession that North Texas had, was either in their half of the field or in front of us where they had a hard time breaking us down. And for us, that’s fine,” head coach Daryl Shore said in an interview after the match.
The strategy worked for much of the first half, as the Texans only managed one shot on target.
Unfortunately for the Flamingos, that one shot took an unlucky deflection and caught goalkeeper Philipp Marcetta, signed in February from the German third division, leaning the wrong direction.
The Mingos responded well, though, as Jiro Boyega Toyama, playing at left back, made a skillful run through the North Texas midfield and played a nicely weighted pass to Paulo Júnior on the right wing. The Brazilian took one touch and served a low cross into the box, where Wojcik took an easy touch to level matters.
“I thought our reaction to giving up an early goal was good,” Shore said. “I thought the buildup to our goal was (what) you’re going to see from us. Some good movement, obviously up top, getting the ball wide.”
Shore said the decision to move Toyama from a left wing to left back paid off.
“We made the decision to make him more our left back and move Christian (Diaz) over to the right. And the qualities that Jiro brings going forward are very good,” Shore said. ”He’s really learning the defensive side of the game and the stuff that he does to get forward and get into the attack is great. But we’re really proud of his defensive effort.”
A bit of a defensive gaffe ended up being decisive, as captain Connor Tobin misplayed a ball in just before the hour mark, leaving defensive partner Jalen Crisler unable to stop 2019 Golden Boot winner Ronaldo Dumas from sliding a shot between Marcetta’s ankles.
“You don’t point your finger at the goalkeeper for either of the goals,” Shore said. “He was solid. Goalkeeping is not going to be our issue this year.”
Marcetta ended the night with five saves, two of them of the spectacular, diving variety.
Crisler took a knock on the second North Texas goal and was done for the night, with Jamael Cox, signed in the offseason from FC Tucson, coming into the midfield and Eric Leonard moving to join Tobin in the center of the back line.
Other subs included midfielder Louis Bennett, inserted in an attacking role, and 16-year-old Alex Monis, on loan from Chicago Fire of MLS. Monis had two promising, probing runs up the sidelines, but was unable to find a cross.
“I think what you saw from Alex is he’s got pace,” Shore said. “We probably didn’t give him enough time. We probably should have gotten him and Jamael both on the field a little bit earlier. I think Paolo and Don had put in a good shift and we probably might’ve run them a little bit too long.”
Shore said the club will work this week on a more forward-looking mindset.
“For our first match in almost four months, I felt like our legs were a little heavy. And it took us a while to get into the game,” he said. “Proud of the character of the guys. We didn’t give up even when we went down, two one, we kept pushing. So those were probably the positives. … We’ve got to eliminate mistakes. And then the other thing that we got to get better at is when we win the ball, our possession and our advancement of the ball needs to be better. There are too many times where we won the ball and we just went sideways, instead of trying to get forward. Because the times when we got forward is when we were most dangerous and we were able to break them down.”
Forward Madison returns to action Friday at 7 pm in their home opener at Hart Park in Wauwatosa against Greenville Triumph, currently leading the league after victories over Fort Lauderdale and Richmond.