By Ian Shalapata
(WINDSOR, ON) – The Windsor Stars put a halt to their two-game skid and solidified their chances in the League 1 Ontario Cup with a 5-2 home win over the Toronto FC Senior Academy side at McHugh Soccer Complex last night. The score belied the closeness of the competition as the away team were eager to show their worth.
Almost from the opening whistle Windsor took the play to the young Toronto. Mike Pio had two good chances in close, but TFC keeper Brogan Engbers kept his team in the game. Pio’s chances were followed by a cross, a free kick from the 18, a blocked shot, and a strike that Engbers deflected over the cross bar.
Finally, Windsor’s efforts were rewarded when Noah Pio sent a right-footed shot to the back of the net to lift the Stars up by one. Toronto countered with a foray into the Windsor zone, but a free kick was headed away by the Stars’ defence and captain Stephen Ademolu quickly made it 2-nil for Windsor.
Toronto challenged again, earning a corner kick, but Kyle Vizirakis pulled the ball down and transitioned Windsor up field where Noah Pio would strike for his second of the evening. With the match barely 20 minutes old, the Stars were dominating play and enjoying a 3-nil lead.
Vizirakis was again forced to make two more stops on Toronto crosses and each time the clearing resulted in a long run into the FC zone. Engbers was called upon to punch away attempts on goal before Brett Holmberg put Windsor ahead 4-nil with his 7th goal of the season.
Windsor’s defence broke down allowing Leonard Sohn a chance at Vizirakis, and then Kevin Timachy got Toronto on the score sheet just before half time.
Stars’ head coach Shane Topalovic substituted Shane Beaton for Vizirakis to start the 2nd half, finding some game action experience for the young keeper.
Windsor began the half with renewed vigour and taking the play to TFC. Stefan Milidrag sent the ball wide and then the Pio brothers combined to force Engbers into making a splendid save.
The turning point in the game occurred after the Stars turned away a TFC corner kick, but the visitors defended the Windsor attack well. A long strike resulted in Beaton diving to his left and then another ball into the box was gathered in by Beaton. Moments later, a third attempt by Toronto went wide, but Academy could feel the change in momentum.
TFC began to pressure the Windsor ball carriers and not allowing them the time to set up. Coupled with some poor ball handling, and the Stars were moved off the ball by Toronto.
Reshon Phillip sent a long ball into the Windsor box and Beaton was equal to the task, but then Cyrus Rollocks found the target in the 72nd minute to pull Toronto within two of the Stars. For the next sixteen minutes Toronto continued to throw everything they could at Beaton, who refused to give in to the pressure.
However, in their desire to go forward, Toronto left open a weakness in the back field and Windsor took advantage when Mike Pio struck from 12 yards out to put the match out of reach.
After three minutes of stoppage time was added, Windsor had the win and three points in League 1 Ontario Cup play.
“I was definitely expecting [TFC] to play hard, fast, everything that they did,” said Topalovic. “I thought we handled it pretty good. We had to play through a couple of injuries, but I thought we maintained pretty well.”
While please with Windsor’s showing, Topalovic was impressed that Toronto refused to roll over despite being down by three at the half.
“They just came out hungry. They wouldn’t quit and they kept hustling and they were hungry for it,” he explained.
One move that was met with some raised eyebrows was starting Noah Pio, but Topalovic was confident in making the decision.
“I’m not surprised at his play tonight. It was a great opportunity for him and he delivered. Just one goal he didn’t have a hand in tonight,” Topalovic said. “Everything about that kid tonight was outstanding. I don’t have a bad word to say about him.”
Windsor keeper Kyle Vizirakis was just as enthused about the play of back-up Shane Beaton.
“Shane works his butt off in practice and this was a good game for him to gain some experience at this level,” said Vizirakis.
Windsor will now return to league play with an away game against the same TFC side, on June 28 at the Kia Training Ground. After eight games, the Stars have 10 points and 7th spot on the league ladder, just a single point ahead of TFC Academy.
“They’re going to be a little tougher, Vizirakis said. “They’re a very tactical team, technically sound, but I think we’ll still take the three points up there.”
The win gives Windsor 4 points in Cup play and the current lead in Group 4.