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Men’s 7-on-7 Soccer Semifinals Were Battles

Tue, 11/21/2023 - 18:36
Sag Harbor United’s Donald Martinez, left, the 7-on-7 league’s leading scorer, held off the Maidstone Market’s Jorge Naula during the course of those teams’ semifinal playoff showdown on Nov. 15 at East Hampton Village’s Herrick Park.
Leslie Czeladko

Four 7-on-7 men’s soccer teams, F.C. Tuxpan, Tortorella Pools, the Maidstone Market, and Sag Harbor United, battled it out at East Hampton’s Herrick Park on the night of Nov. 15 in the league’s semifinal playoff round, with Tuxpan, over Tortorella, and Maidstone, over Sag Harbor United, emerging as the winners. Tuxpan and the Market were to have faced each other in the Wednesday evening league’s fall final Monday.

Tuxpan, the top seed by virtue of its first-place finish in the regular season, had an easier time of it on the 15th, shutting out fourth-seeded Tortorella 3-0, after which Maidstone, a perennial champion in the past, which now sports some players relatively new to the league, defeated Sag Harbor United — the last team to win a league championship, in the spring of 2022 — in penalty kicks by a score of 4-2.

Both goalies, Cristian Gutierrez of Maidstone and Yeiner Garcia of United, were quite active during regulation time, especially Garcia, who made several spectacular saves, one of them a leaping one-hander that robbed Julio Espinal in the game’s final minute. But in the penalty kick shootout that broke a 1-1 tie it was Guttierez who prevailed, as four of the five shooters Maidstone sent to the line 10 yards out scored, while only two of the four Sag Harbor United kickers, Juan Zuluaga and Gerson Damian, did.

Espinal, who can bend it like Beckham, got Maidstone off on the right foot in penalties, blasting a shot that curled high into the right corner of the cage. Gutierrez then parried a shot aimed low toward the left corner, after which Garcia, likewise, stopped George Naula’s attempt.

United’s Donald Martinez, the league’s “golden boot” winner, who had scored the tying goal earlier that night, had a chance to tie it up, but his bid went well over the crossbar. Elvis Rojas put the Market ahead 2-0, beating Garcia to the right corner, after which Zuluaga got Sag Harbor United on the board. Maidstone’s third goal was scored by Jorge Nieto. Damian kept United in it, at 3-2, but, subsequently, Alberto

Zambrano, Maidstone’s fifth shooter, clinched the win.

The night’s first semifinal showdown, in going F.C. Tuxpan’s way, saw Faustino Dominguez’s heavy foot beat Tortorella’s goalie, Alejandro Bolanos, on the ground from about 15 yards out midway through the first half. About midway through the second he converted a pass from Gabriel Ramirez to make it 2-0.

Tortorella, whose scoring threats included Mario Olaya, David Rodriguez Jr., and Eddie Lopez, tried its best to come back, but couldn’t. A goal in the final seconds by Alberto Carreto, following a free kick taken by Dominguez, finished the fourth-seeded team off.

The first half of game two, while played at a feverish pace, ended without a score. Garcia staved off two Maidstone bids in the final four minutes, one by Rojas, the other by Espinal, who was awarded a free kick after he’d been taken down by a defender 10 or so yards out from the goal line. Garcia’s subsequent leaping, one-handed block kept the zooming ball from finding the upper left corner of the nets.

Espinal finally broke the ice midway through the second half, beating Garcia from about 10 yards away, though a minute later a ground-hugging 10-yard free kick taken by Martinez evened the count. It was his eighth goal of the season.

There was plenty of action to come in the final 16 minutes of play, but, as Leslie Czeladko, the league’s manager, predicted at the time, the showdown was headed for penalty kicks.

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