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PNAC Upset by O.M.I. in Clericus Cup | Joseph Previtali | April 19, 2007

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Hampered by Easter-break rust, the absence of three starters, and the loss of one key defender to injury, the Pontifical North American College soccer team was upset by the previously winless O.M.I. (Oblates of Mary Immaculate) Team by the score of 3-2 on Saturday, April 14th, in Clericus Cup action.

The O.M.I. side got on the scoreboard early in the first half when, five minutes into the game, they converted on a free kick. The ball was sent into the box, at which point NAC goalkeeper Deacon Andy Roza yelled, "Clear!" to his defenders. A couple of the defenders, misunderstanding the instruction (which was supposed to mean, "Clear the ball out"), thought that Roza meant, "All clear, I've got it." The lack of communication caused the defenders to leave their men unmarked, and one such O.M.I. player went after the ball and slipped it easily past Roza for a 1-0 lead. It was the first time the NAC had trailed in the entire tournament, and it would prove to portend future free-kick nightmares for the NAC on the day.

However, undaunted by the unfamiliar disadvantage, the American side responded on the ensuing kickoff. Co-coach and striker Daniel O'Mullane sent a cross from left to right, hitting midfielder Fr. Jeremy Leatherby in stride. Fr. Leatherby controlled the ball, found himself wide open in the box, and buried a low shot past the O.M.I. goalkeeper. Ten seconds had passed and the NAC had tied the game. It was an amazing response by the NAC offense, but their momentum was short-lived.

Several minutes later, Deacon Josh Waltz re-injured his left ankle, forcing one of the top American defenders, and a team leader, to leave the game. With the NAC bench already thin due to the absence of starting striker Jimmy Morrison, midfielder Phil Smith, and defender Steve Titus, as well as key reserve midfielder Deacon Alejandro del Toro, the injury to Waltz was devastating. The O.M.I. Team continued to apply pressure to the NAC defense, which nonetheless appeared to hold up well without starters Waltz and Titus.

However, the O.M.I. capitalized on another free-kick opportunity some minutes later in the first half. The kick came from about 20 yards out, straight out from the goal. The O.M.I. striker put a good deal of force behind the ball and fired it on a line to the top of the goal. Roza was there, but the ball overpowered him, escaping his attempt to block it up over the goalpost. The ball struck the net, and the O.M.I. Team led 2-1. The momentum had shifted.

The NAC tried to answer again, but their strong attack was turned away. The O.M.I. defense was aided in large part by the referee's no-call on what appeared to be an O.M.I. defender's foul on O'Mullane in the box.

Then just minutes later, the O.M.I. capitalized on yet another free kick, which was nearly identical to that of the first goal. Again, the NAC goalkeeper Roza yelled, "Clear!" and again, some of his defenders misunderstood the command. An O.M.I. striker received the ball on the far post and sent it across, left to right, where his teammate tapped it into the goal. The O.M.I. Team led 3-1, and it was not yet halftime.

Left without five key players, and shocked by the 3-1 halftime score, the NAC squad did not give up. They came out aggressively in the second half. The defense was much improved, as it denied the O.M.I. Team for the rest of the game. The O.M.I. side had transitioned into a more conservative, defensive-oriented setup, and the NAC offense, comprised largely of substitutes, struggled to put themselves in position to score. Particularly frustrating were three beautiful corner kicks sent into the box by O'Mullane, none of which resulted in goals.

Twenty minutes into the second half, however, the NAC finally caught a break. Another corner kick was sent in, and an O.M.I. defender was called for a hand-ball in the box. O'Mullane easily converted the subsequent penalty kick, and the score stood 3-2. Ten minutes remained for the NAC to force a shootout and salvage the game.

But the O.M.I. Team, which came into the game without a point to their record, could taste victory. They fought tenaciously to keep the NAC offense away from their goal, and, in the end, they had picked the right day to play the depleted American team. The final whistle blew after three minutes of injury time, and the O.M.I. Team had recorded their first victory.

The NAC is now in fourth place in Group A, with a total of nine points. They play this Saturday in a crucial, almost must-win game against the Pontifical Gregorian University. The Gregorian is tied for fifth with six points, and they can tie the NAC with a victory. With a victory of their own, the NAC can clinch a berth in the tournament round of the Clericus Cup, and they can move themselves into position to finish near the top of their group.

Pontifical North American College | 2007 Clericus Cup Schedule (Preliminary Round)

March 3, 9:30AM vs. Pontificio Collegio Urbano (Field A). 0-0 (4-3).
March 10, 9:30AM vs. Pontificio Seminario Gallico (French College) (Field B). 4-0.
March 17, 9:30AM vs. Croati (Field B) 4-5.
March 24, 9:30AM vs. Tiberino (Field A) 3-1.
April 14, 11:15AM vs. O.M.I. Team (Field B) 2-3.
April 21, 9:30AM vs. P.U. Gregoriana (Gregorian University) (Field A)
April 28, 9:30AM vs. C.I. Mater Ecclesiae (Legionaries of Christ) (Field B)

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

PNAC defeats Tiberino, 3-1 | Joseph Previtali | March 30, 2007
PNAC Loses to Croatian Team in Shootout | Joseph Previtali | March 21, 2007
NAC defeats PGC, 4-0 | Joseph Previtali | March 10, 2007
Shootout In Rome: NAC wins its first 2007 Clericus Cup match | Joseph Previtali | March 6, 2007
North American College soccer team wins| Joseph Previtali
Seminarians and Soccer! Meet the Pontifical North American College Clericus Cup Team | Joseph Previtali

Joseph Filice Previtali is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He is in his third year of theological studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he currently resides. In June, he will receivethe Baccalaureate of Sacred Theology (S.T.B.) from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum). Previously, he was sports editor and columnist for The Gonzaga Witness, a Catholic student newspaper, which he co-founded with his friends at Gonzaga University. He will be reporting on the Clericus Cup for IgnatiusInsight.com and the Insight Scoop blog throughout the course of the tournament.

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