HATTIESBURG, MS – Led by a clean sheet from goalkeeper Domenic Nascimben and a dominant midfield performance from Arad Lev-Ari, Sam Blackburn, and Tilman Schober, AFC Mobile took home a 3-0 victory on the road against Hattiesburg FC.
With a drastically different lineup from the one that faced Tallahassee SC in the opening match of the GCPL season, AFC Mobile head coach Steve Wieczorek started a brand new backline with only Vlad Margolin returning to the starting lineup.
“There were some injuries and some players not available for selection, which kind of forced my hand a little bit,” said Wieczorek, “but I think it’s going to round out into the team that we see going forward anyway.”
The goalscoring began when Lev-Ari split the Hattiesburg defense in the thirteenth minute with a curved, driven pass to Tilman Schober. Schober took a squaring touch before curling the ball into the far top corner to put the Azaleas up 1-0 early.
In the 43rd minute, Lev-Ari combined with Blackburn and Iba Ndaw to open up the penalty area for Chisom Ogbonna. Ogbonna was brought down in the 18-yard box and calmly finished the ensuing penalty with a powerful, low shot to send the Azaleas to halftime leading 2-0.
Lev-Ari, who primarily played in a central attacking role for the first time with Mobile, earned praises from Wieczorek after the game.
“Iba and Chisom again looked a handful going forward and Tilman as well,” Wieczorek said. “Arad’s actual shift on the field, the ground that he covered, his effort – if anyone stands out it’s him.”
Hattiesburg FC had its best opportunity of the night in the 67th minute. After a stint of possession, Hattiesburg spread out an otherwise solid and compact Mobile backline to take an open shot on frame, which caused Nascimben to go full-stretch horizontally and deny the home team a goal with his fingertips.
Another opportunity for Hattiesburg came in the 71st minute when a lofted cross played into the box was intercepted by Nascimben, who was then kicked by a Hattiesburg attacker. The trainer was brought on as Nascimben lay on the ground for nearly five minutes before he was cleared by the trainer and play resumed.
“We kept a clean sheet away from home with a back five that’s not played together – ever,” Wieczorek said.
Late in the match, Lev-Ari combined with AFC Mobile debutant Mikey Conneh to send Schober through. Schober chipped the keeper one-on-one, but the Hattiesburg defense was able to track back and clear the line.
The Azaleas kept coming and Ndaw continued his three-match goal scoring streak after high-pressing midfielder Blackburn forced a Hattiesburg turnover just outside of the box. Blackburn poked the ball to Lev-Ari, who played Ndaw into a one-on-one situation with the Hattiesburg goalkeeper. Ndaw calmly finished to give Mobile a commanding 3-0 lead and, ultimately, the win.
“It was a hard game,” said Lev-Ari. “They are a quality team. We knew we wanted to get points from this game. The original plan was to see what we could do, what our ability is. But we outperformed. We did a really good job, got three points, and it is going to be huge going forward into the season.”
AFC Mobile will return home next week against their oldest rivals, Port City FC, in the first leg of the 2019 Forgotten Coast Cup. The match will kick off at 7 p.m. at the Archbishop Lipscomb Athletic Complex. Tickets are $10, and all kids 12 and under will be admitted free. This match is also our Military Appreciation Night where veterans and active duty military personnel will get in free with a valid ID.