Thursday, 5 July 2018

K Sports 2 Oakland Leopards 1

Match 03/18/1596 - Thursday, 5th July 2018 - Pre-Season Friendly

K Sports (0) 2 Morgan 87 Gethin 89
Oakland Leopards (1) 1 De Loa 3
Headcount: 62

Admission: £3
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 27/104

The days of the novelty pre-season friendly are that of yesteryear. Those of us with longer memories can remember Tonbridge playing a team from Kuwait at the old Angel Ground or Gillingham v the Japanese National team. Unfortunately, for a SCEFL team, a home fixture against lofty opposition from the National League will, in general, mean a visit from a team made up of youngsters and trialists with perhaps a couple of first teamers seeking fitness.

So it was that a visit from Oakland Leopards, from the west coast of America to K Sports, a club who themselves are mapping a path through the English pyramid, made for one of the more appetising fixtures on the pre-season list.

In the matchday programme, something of a novelty in itself for K Sports, who met with criticism from groundhoppers last season for the various excuses for not producing one, there was a message from Edward Stephen, coach of the Leopards that told of the challenges that the young players of his club faced as residents of Oakland, a city that when I visited in the early 1980s, we were told in the hotel not to venture out after dark, seemingly not a lot has changed.

Stephen wrote that his Under-19 boys were all local Latino kids from low income families and lived in parts of Oakland known for drugs, violence and shootings. It is not uncommon to hear gunshots in the background during training sessions. Despite all the negativity of Oakland’s environment and reputation and the hostility directed towards minorities it is inspiring to see their strength and determination to overcome challenges that kids should not have to face.

The Oakland side have crowdfunded $9,000 to make-up a total of $45,000 needed to fund the trip which will also include fixtures at Redbridge and Biggleswade.

The Under-19 game ended with a 3-2 win for K Sports before the senior game.

For those that might end up reading this in the United States, and Oakland in particular, we are “enjoying” a heatwave in Britain and the south-east in particular, so the teams took to Cobdown’s 3G surface on a very warm, muggy evening.

The Leopards got their evening, and their tour, off to the best possible start when they took the lead after just two minutes. A wonderful through ball from Prince Bere sent Eduardo De Loa through on goal to shake off a couple of challenges and slot the ball past the K Sports goalkeeper Adam Highstead (without a K Sports team sheet, I’m hoping their programme team was near to correct).

As an attacking force for Oakland, it was as good as it was going to get for the majority of the first half that became a rearguard action with the Leopards keeper, Thomas Soto excelling.

Soto pushed an effort over the bar after nine minutes whilst a minute later, Connor Morgan crashed a header against the bar.

The Oakland goal led a somewhat charmed life and coupled with some resolute defending they managed to see their lead through to half-time intact.

As is the norm of pre-season, a plethora of substitutions actually saw K Sports lose the momentum that they had from the first period. After four minutes of the second half, it took a great saving tackle to deny Jesus Hernandez and the goalkeeper made a good save from Armando Castro.

On the hour, a shot from Bere brought a fine save low to his right from Highstead and the custodian was brought into action again soon after by Diego Garcia.

As pre-season games go, this one was really compelling and into the last ten minutes, K Sports threw themselves forward to salvage something out of the game but continued to find Soto a human barrier. In the midst of a World Cup in which goalkeeper's punching of the ball has been brought into question, Soto acrobatically punched the ball to safety on numerous occasions.

Oakland’s resistance was finally broken with three minutes remaining, after Soto had brilliantly tipped over, the resultant corner was met with a towering header from Morgan to level the scores.

K Sports found a winner within 60 seconds as a cross found the glancing head of Matt Gethin to pinch the spoils.

The Leopards had one final effort that was deflected over the bar before the referee brought the curtain down on a very worthwhile evening.

One can only wish Oakland Leopards the very best of luck for the rest of their tour and hope they make many friends along the way, their football ethic deserves no less.

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