Rocket City Recap: Huntsville City falls to Crown Legacy on penalties in Christophe Berra debut

Christophe Berra was thrust into the role of head coach last Tuesday, which meant he had only four days to instill his game plan on the Huntsville squad ahead of their game against Crown Legacy FC. Plenty of injuries and a suspension to Adem Sipic meant the squad was fairly thin as well. Let’s dive in.

The lineup

Speaking of the squad, with all those issues, they still fielded a fairly strong lineup, albeit very academy heavy. It was of course Ben Martino in goal, with Chris Applewhite and Scott Cheevers anchoring the backline at 16 and 17 years old respectively. The fullbacks were the same, with Isaiah Jones and Fernando Ciceron, while the midfield was also familiar, starting Izzy Johnston and Brennan Creek.

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The front four had to be modified to account for the lack of a true number nine, with Maximus Ekk sliding up top and academy product Dominic Wilson taking his spot on the left. Jonathan Bolaños and Alejandro Velazquez-Lopez retained their spots from the loss to Inter Miami II as well.

The game

The game started off testy at both ends, with the best early chance coming for Maximus Ekk in the 9th minute, who had is 1v1 effort saved. Jonathan Bolaños had the opportunity to follow up, but miss-hit the ball and that was the chance gone. Crown Legacy also had a free header off a corner in the 15th minute that was dealt with by Martino.

The next little bit of the game was much calmer, but a mistake from the Crown Legacy keeper in the 29th minute almost led to a Maximus Ekk goal from the tightest possible angle, however it was cleared off the line.

However, in the 36th minute, things looked incredibly promising as Cam Duke was sent off for the visitors. Huntsville looked bright, but for the rest of the half were unable to provide any real threat. The second half began, and Huntsville looked to put pressure on.

Alejandro Velazquez-Lopez put a shot just over the bar in the 49th minute, and that was a sign of things to come. Dom Wilson lashed an effort at the keeper seconds later, and then it was Ekk again in the 55th minute, putting his effort just wide of the post.

Scott Cheevers nearly scored an identical goal to the one he scored against Inter Miami II two minutes later, before Velazquez-Lopez had another great effort saved by the keeper in the 63rd minute. Bolaños had a 1v1 saved shortly after that, but the pressure would finally pay off in the 69th minute.

Ollie Wright, standing just outside the D, scooped a beautiful ball over the Crown Legacy defense where it found Brennan Creek’s head for his first goal in the Rocket City. Huntsville kept the pressure on, with another Bolaños 1v1 getting saved off an inch perfect through ball from Ekk in the 76th minute.

Unfortunately, less than a minute later, Crown Legacy found the back of the net on a pullback cross headed to the far post. Both teams desperately searched for a winner, but none was to be found. In penalties, Alexis Cerritos missed Huntsville’s first, and that was all the visitors needed after scoring all five of their attempts.

The performances

This was far and away the best game Maximus Ekk has played in a Huntsville uniform to date. I’ve seen Cade Cowell comparisons, and while I see the vision, so to speak, I actually think Ekk might be a bit more well rounded than Cade Cowell was at 18. Both are still very reliant on their physicality and pace, but I feel like Ekk’s game is just a tad more balanced than Cowell’s was two years ago.

Really the entire front four played well, in honesty, but Ekk really stood out to me in this game. The other two players that really stood out were the two centerbacks. Aside from a couple nervy moments they both looked composed and confident for their age. For reference, if you want to feel old, both of them were born after the conclusion of Vince Young’s rookie season with the Titans.

Izzy Johnston and Brennan Creek also had good games once again. As a pairing I feel like they’ve been some of the most consistent players on the team. Ollie Wright of course looked great off the bench, getting the assist to Creek’s goal.

So what do we make of game one of the Christophe Berra era? Tactically, not much changed, not that wholesale changes were ever expected. Now that it’s existed under two different managers, I think I can safely infer that the heavy presence of academy products in the squad on a weekly basis is an organizational choice, which is nice to see.

As mentioned, with the injuries and suspensions, it’s hard to really get an idea of whether this team has it in them to contend for a playoff spot. Hopefully those issues start clearing up soon.

Highlights

Author: Ronan Briscoeis a contributor for Broadway Sports, and a founding contributor at SoundwaveSoccer.com, where he covers Nashville SC, Huntsville City FC and Nashville's youth academy.

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