For the first time in 2022, Rockford FC had a chance to defend the "castle" at Wyeth Stadium with Chicago rivals Berber City FC visiting for the third game in both clubs' Midwest Premier League schedule. RFC had fought hard in its first two games but had come up empty handed. Berber, on the other hand, had defeated bottom of table Edgewater Castle before losing to the Cedar Rapids Inferno.
Coach Brett Suhayda kept the 4-3-3 formation that had helped the team control the previous game against FC Diablos. With Carson Davenport out of town, Dennis Luis-Aragon took over in goal with Jose (Paco) Gutierrez and David Rebollar returning to the lineup in the midfield. Dynamic attacker Sebastian Bugere also returned to the lineup following the completion of his suspension, lining up alongside consistent threat Poe Reh and new signing Waleed (Luffy) Shaibi. And boy, did that trio work together well.
Berber's strongest moments of the first half came in the opening minutes. They tried to take advantage of a few stray passes from Rockford, but the Gears' defense cleaned up well. After that, Rockford dominated the game and never let up.
The first goal refused to come early, though. Despite controlling possession and pushing into the attack third consistently, Rockford couldn't find the final blow. Early chances either went wide, were just offside, or were missing the final touch. That was, until Efren Gomez found Shaibi streaking down the middle. He broke free from Berber's uneven defense and slotted the ball past the keeper to give Rockford its first lead in the MWPL season.
Then the floodgates opened. Minutes after the opening salvo, Gutierrez hit a long free kick from twenty yards out straight into the bottom corner. The keeper had no shot, and Rockford took a 2-0 lead until a pass with an intentional touch by the defense played Shaibi onside in the middle. He pushed toward the keeper again before sending it out wide to Sebastian Bugere, whose shot was perfect into the open net. Rockford went up 3-0 before almost scoring a fourth. Bugere sent the ball into the net but was offside and then Poe Reh broke down the left, only for his shot to be saved by the keeper. The half ended, and the home crowd was full of excitement heading into the second half.
After a series of substitutions at half, things quieted down a bit for RFC. The team still controlled possession, but a bit of panicked defending midway through the half allowed Berber what was one of their few shots in the game. They took advantage, making it a 3-1 game and adding a bit of nerves to the home crowd. Those nerves didn't last long. Just over ten minutes later, Poe Reh, who'd created chance after chance, finally found the luck he needed. An errant header by Berber found the foot of David Rebollar, who sent a through ball to an unmarked Reh. Poe's long shot wavered a bit too close to the keeper, but the fingertip save wasn't enough to keep it from the net. Rockford went up 4-1.
Tensions arose quickly in that second half as Berber pushed for another to make it a competitive game. Fouls increased on both sides, and Berber's players and staff consistently complained about the referee's decisions. This continued until a few minutes after RFC's fourth goal, when a Berber defender was sent off with his second yellow after a very ambitious tackle. Down three and with only ten men, they never at the chance to recover. The game finished 4-1, and RFC celebrated their home opener with a blow out win.
It is safe to say this was the Gears' best performance of the year so far. After two hard-fought games where things didn't fall our way, that effort finally paid off in dramatic fashion. Coach Suhayda expressed his excitement about the win after the game, but he insisted there was still more work to do on the mental side of the game. He also named Jose (Paco) Gutierrez as his man of the match.
There were far more positives than negatives about the game, though, from Rockford's consistent attacking surges to the success of the high press. The defense, too, looked far more in sync than previous games.
The win takes Rockford into 7th place in the MWPL West Conference, tied with many other clubs on points (3). It's a solid step after some tough early games, and the club hopes to continue this form in Saturday's away game against 9th place Ceda Rapids Inferno.
Waleed (Luffy) Shaibi: 1 goal. 1 assist.
Jose (Paco) Gutierrez: 1 goal.
Sebastian Bugere: 1 goal.
Poe Reh: 1 goal.
Efren Gomez: 1 assist.
David Rebollar: 1 assist.
Join Rockford FC for their home games of MWPL season at Auburn High School: www.RockfordFC.com/tickets