The Rockford FC boys traveled twice before the beginning of the Midwest Premier League season, visiting Chicago-based Steel City FC (also in the MWPL) and the USL 2 squad of Chicago City SC. Each of these games presented different tests, with Steel City presenting a roster of mostly young players and Chicago City's USL 2 squad representing a higher division challenge.
RFC retained much of its talent from last year with coaches Brett Suhayda and Christian Bitangalo, who also features as a center-back for the club, returning along with key players such as striker Poe Reh, dominating center-midfielder Armani (Zid) Amani, winger Sebastian Bugere, and fullback Way Too. It was a new signing, though, who would prove key in their first game against Steel City. After going down by a single goal in the first half, the team came alive in the second half with attacker Jose Gutierrez (aka Paco) bagging a brace. Coach Suhayda was impressed with the team's ability to reorganize in that second half, and with the defense not allowing another goal, Rockford FC won its first friendly with a final score of 2-1.
The second friendly was a much steeper hill to climb. Chicago City SC wasn't bringing its MWPL roster or young players. Their USL 2 roster consists of tall, quick players who presented a difficult fight for Rockford from the get go. Chicago controlled possession for the early part of the first half, but it was Rockford who struck first. A quick counter-attack saw RFC's Poe Reh tackled in the box and earning the club a penalty kick. Fullback Evariste (Kimba) Kakozi tucked the PK into the corner with ease, giving RFC an early and surprising lead.
That lead would prove to be fleeting, as soon after, Chicago City rebounded with a free header at the back post and another strike, putting them up 2-1 in less than ten minutes. Rockford looked bent, but they did not break. Countering again, they struck fast. A whipped corner from the left found Sebastian Bugere's head, and the Chicago keeper had no chance, tying it up at 2-2. A late goal by Chicago City put them up 3-2 at half.
This strong start by RFC against a superior opponent seemed to have them able to go into the second half with confidence. They initially continued their counterattacks, despite Chicago's control of possession. When the hosts scored their fourth goal, though, the confidence broke. Fouls became more common, and midway through the half, Zid Amani faced his second yellow. RFC never recovered without its enforcer in the center midfield. Chicago knocked home two more goals to finish the game at 6-2.
A 1-1 start to the season is nothing to scoff at, but these games meant more for team cohesion and practice than results. With Rockford's Midwest Premier League season starting on May 18th against RWB Adria (2nd in the West last year), they needed the practice. Adria is a tough opponent, but both games so far have proven the RFC boys know how to fight when down or when forced back by a strong team. The question is whether they'll be able to hit back like against Steel City or stumble. We'll find out soon, and it's looking like a fun season ahead.
Join Rockford FC for their MWPL season at Auburn High School: www.RockfordFC.com/tickets