Electric. Emotional. Intense. Spellbinding. Relentless. Controversial. Passionate. Fiery. Mesmerizing.

The Battle for the top spot in the league and San Diego went to the Albion Pros. The San Diego Derby game between San Diego Albion Pros and North County Battalion lived up to the hype, with Albion Pros claiming a 3-1 win on the road.

As you can imagine, the rivalry was on full blast with a national presence as the NPSL National Game of the Week. Over 1000 fans came to Del Norte High School to watch the San Diego Derby (pronounced “DAR-BE”), affectionately being referred to as the #CraftBeerCup. Separated by only 20 miles, the derby match was bound to be full of fiery passion from players and fans alike. The North County Battalion fans, clad in all black, brought the noise with a full drum set, mega phone and hundreds of boisterous fans to spur the home team on. However, Albion Pros fans and their official supporters group The Deep End were not to be outdone.

Prior to the game, as is customary in European matches, the supporters exchanged banter across the stadium. The Deep End started with chants around the motif “We are San Diego, We Are Albion” and “There is nothing to do in North County.” NCB followers retorted with “We own our own homes, we are your landlords” and “What is an Albion.” Then, as the stadium descended into silence for the playing of the national anthem, The Deep End proudly sang every word at full voice. The tone was set. Albion Pros and the Deep End were here to claim San Diego, bragging rights and the Top Spot in the league.

The first half whistle blew. NCB came out like a flash and pressured the Albion Pros from the first minute. The Pros couldn’t get out of their own half as they gave the ball away often in the early going. NCB had its first chance when a deflected ball went through to Left Winger Esteban Reyes who flashed a cross in. GK Jean Antoine acrobatically secured the ball, but it was foreshadowing for what was to come. Reyes got on the ball early and often to create chances for the team in black. Then in the 10th minute, Reyes found himself at the top of the box with the ball at his feet and space to shoot. Curling a driven ball towards goal, the ball took a fortuitous bounce just in front of the outstretched dive of Jean Antoine. The home crowd went wild with excitement. Chants poured in “It only took ten minutes” and just like that GK Antoine’s shutout streak ended at 190 minutes. 1-0 for NC Battalion.

The shell-shocked Albion Pros remained on their heals as NCB pressed for a second goal. Luckily for the Pros, a handful of chances fired wide and over the net. It took until the 25th minute for Albion to gain any possession and get out of their half. In the 30th minute, star Honduran centerback Ricky McKenzie had to limp off the field with a groin strain. Kainoa Owens replaced him and immediately made his presence known earning a yellow for a hard foul on the sideline. That’s about the time the tide started to change in the game. Albion Pros started to grab a foothold in the game and crafted a for sure goal only to be saved off the goal line by a defender’s face. Felipe Liborio put in an early cross that the NCB GK dropped to the feet of Tre Hayes who fired a shot towards goal. CB Justin Picou was covering for his goalie and took the shot to the face to deny the equalizer. Albion continued to press and harass the back line of Battalion. In the 42nd minute, Albion got their equalizer when they won the ball at the halfway line from an errant pass. Liborio took the ball from RB Jose Merlo and fed the ball to Douglas Andrade who played the ball into a streaking David Luquen. Luquen weaved through the heart of the defense, then made a brilliant cut to his left as the defender closed him down. The keeper took the bait and went with the fake exposing the entirety of his goal for Luquen to tap one in for the equalizer. 1-1 at the half.

Albion Pros kept the momentum in the second half and heavily pressured NCB’s every pass. They repeatedly gathered stray passes and launched swift counterattacks. However, they couldn’t get the ball into the net despite dominating possession and shots. That changed in the 59th minute with the NCB Goalkeeper gift wrapping a golden opportunity to Tre Hayes. NCB were keeping possession along the backline with Albion pressing and waiting to pounce on a poor pass. The NCB Goalkeeper tried to clear a backpass but fired it straight at the massive 6’3” frame of Hayes. Tre Hayes made no mistake and punished the error and calmly slotted the ball into the net to make it 2-1 for the visitors. Suddenly the NCB fans were silent and the visitors side erupted with jubilation. Albion Pros had deservedly earned the goal, but Battalion fans couldn’t believe they were now down after starting so strongly. Albion continued to barrage the Battalion goal with relentless attacks. Luquen, Andrade, and Liborio should have extended the lead with shots that rolled just past the wrong side of the post. Just eight minutes later Matt Clare stepped up to a free kick from 25+ yards out close to the visiting team bench. Clare rifled a shot into the top left corner by the hapless keeper making it 3-1 Albion Pros in the 68th minute. The party had started for Albion. Immediately following the goal, the Albion crowd started to chant OLÉ, OLÉ, OLÉ with every pass as the NCB fans could only watch in frustration.

Already a heated match, Midfielder Luis Cardona added fuel to an already hot fire. With 15 minutes left to play, Cardona made a bone crunching challenge on Player/Coach/Captain Ryan Guy that earned him a straight red card. A scuffle between the two teams ensued with tempers rising to fever pitch. Albion would be reduced to 10 men for the rest of the match which offered a glimmer of hope to Battalion to claw their way back into the game. Battalion started to use their numerical advantage to create some chances with crosses and shots from distance. However, their shots could only flash over the cross bar or wide of their mark. Substitute Oscar Ortega was then given his marching orders in the dying minutes of the game for two soft yellow cards with the second being earned for time wasting despite ball boys readily available near the sidelines. Another glimmer of hope for NCB, but their wasn’t enough time left to make Albion Pros pay for their lack of discipline.

Albion Pros 3 – 1 win gives them the top spot in the league and San Diego bragging rights until the next meeting with Battalion on May 21st at Mission Bay High School Stadium.

Coach Ziggy Korytoski reflected after the game, “This result means we’re the team to beat. We’re top of the table. Our performance after the first 20 minutes was fantastic with guys rising to the challenge. I think we’ve won over a lot of San Diego fans. We’re here to stay. We are San Diego.”

Man of the Match Felipe Liborio commented, “We really had to grind it out. We trained hard all week and weren’t going to let a game like this go. We came out as a big group, as a family and got the result I feel we deserved.”

Come see the first place Albion Pros in their next home game April 23rd at 5pm at Mission Bay High School stadium vs Corinthians. Tickets can be found at prosoccersandiego.com.

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