Mississippi Brilla FC opened the 2015 season Saturday night hosting the Birmingham Hammers at Clinton High School. In a lively match that saw 24 shots between the two teams, the fans only got to see one goal as Brilla earned the 1-0 win.
Both teams started the match quickly and were connecting passes and creating chances to score, but each time, the final touch wasn’t good enough. The first half ended with the Brilla goalkeeper Josh Christiansen having recorded three saves, while his counterpart with the Hammers, Hunter Weber, had four.
Each team used the half-time interval to make adjustments and see other players get some action. Christiansen was replaced in the net by Jordan Bell, while Birmingham’s Weber gave way to AJ Robels. The substitution rules were relaxed in this exhibition match to allow the coaches to give more players game experience. Birmingham took full advantage by making twelve substitutions over the course of the match while Brilla made seven changes.
Early in the second half, Brilla finally broke the deadlock. Forward Kellen Gulley’s skillful step-over dribble got him behind the Hammer’s backline and into the penalty area. His defender caught up and crashed into him, fouling Gulley, and the referee awarded a penalty kick. Midfielder Tom Gavin buried the shot to AJ Robels’ right, leaving him no chance to make the save.
Brilla looked to extend the lead, and nearly did when Ignacio Flores’s long effort beat the Hammer’s ‘keeper, but didn’t beat the crossbar, coming just inches from doubling the lead.
Substitute Stephen Roberson looked dangerous, creating a handful of chances, but only saw his efforts saved or go just wide of the goal.
The Hammers continued to look for a tying goal, but in the end, the Brilla defense, anchored by Brilla captain, Dustin Ashley, was too strong, and goalkeeper Jordan Bell turned away any efforts that came his way in the second half.
Brilla Head Coach Mark McKeever was understandably pleased with the result, saying, “I am very excited with the creativity the team showed after only three days together. Furthermore, the enthusiasm and appetite to work for one another was quality. The first ingredient for success is hard work, and I believe we displayed it in abundance. These lads had three days of double sessions and then played 90 minutes at a very high intensity! They are a unique group of lads.”
General Manager Rusty Bryant echoed those sentiments, saying, “It was great to get a game in to settle the nerves and see what we have to work with. I thought we moved the ball well, were very organized, and will only get better as we play together more."
Bryant also had high praise for the Brilla supporters in attendance, saying, “I thought our fans were fantastic tonight. There was so much energy with the new supporter's club on hand. The players said it really gave them a boost.”
Mississippi will now go on the road for a double header in Laredo, TX May 23 & 25 as they take on the Heat, a perennial Mid-South Division stalwart.
The team will hope to come home with six points before hosting the Cajun Soccer Club at Clinton High School on May 29.