Eagles finally land in nest but can’t score in draw

Telegraph photo by TOM KING Nashua Eagle Ngongo Mungeta, left, and Astoria's Tosin Ogundare are in a race down the sidelines in Saturday's United Premiere Soccer League 0-0 tie at Manchester Memorial.

MANCHESTER – The Eagles of the International Soccer Club of Nashua have landed – finally.

But it wasn’t a completely satisfactory New Hampshire homecoming for the local United Premiere Soccer League entry for a couple of reasons: One, they had to settle for a 0-0 tie with the Astoria Football Club out of Brooklyn, N.Y., and two, they had to do it at Manchester Memorial High School rather than their usual home at Rivier University due to the construction of Riv’s new athletic facility.

“It was nice to be playing close to home,” Eagles co-owner Jared Barbosa said, his team now 2-4-1 in the UPSL’s Northeast Conference/Patriot Division. “The mileage after going five games in a row is really intense and hard on the guys so it was nice to be ‘home’. Our keeper saved our butt once again.”

Yes, for the first time this season, the Eagles had fans cheering when goalkeeper Kyle Connolly made two remarkable saves of his total of seven to preserve the scoreless tie. It was a return of sorts for Connolly, too, as he had missed the last three games while traveling overseas.

He made two spectacular saves in the second half, the first one midway through on the Knights’ Jevaughn Lamont and then another with about five minutes to go on feisty forward Jalil Blalock.

“They were big, huge saves,” said Eagles assistant coach Lucas Hill of Salem, who ran the team while head coach Jerold White was away for personal reasons. “It was good to have him back there, it settles the back end.”

“Their striker hit a pretty good curling shot with his left foot toward my right, but I had a pretty good view of it the whole way,” Connolly said. “I was able to track it across and push it aside.”

The second, on a hard booming shot by Blalock, had everyone in the bleachers breathing a sigh of relief.

“(Blalock) did a good job to hold off our defender,” Connolly said. “He came in, he had a tight angle, and tried to play it kind of heavy over my head. But again, I was able to track it and get some fingertips to it and keep it above the bar. That’s the nature of the game.”

The nature of the game this season is the home teams have had the UPSL edge, judging from Nashua’s struggles. Astoria (4-2-1) had beaten Nashua 2-0 in Brooklyn just a couple of weeks ago.

“My team didn’t put away the chances,” Knights coach Kosi Jones said. “Hats off to (the Eagles). They played with grit and the structure was good. Again, we didn’t put away our chances, at least seven or eight clear cut. But we failed to put them in the back of the net.”

The Eagles are missing offense. They’ve scored only three goals all season (one 3-0 win was a forfeiture due to Boston Siege folding) thanks in part to a leg injury by sensational striker Quincy Appah. Appah sat out the first half, played in the second but was heavily marked and clearly lacked the explosiveness he had last season.

“Today we had more of a defensive lineup,” Hill said. “Both teams played extremely well defensively, and they have a good defensive team and it made it tough for us to get through. With his speed, yes (more chances).”

“In the first half, we played really direct, a lot of long balls,” Connolly said. “So we spoke about it and tried to adjust. In the second half we tried to play a little bit more on the ground and keep it in front of us. But credit to them, they had a lot of guys behind the ball and played pretty good defense and frustrated us a lot of the time.”

At least the Eagles could be frustrated near home. They work out at Memorial now as well, so it was at least familiar.

“We’re going to be up here, with what’s going on at Riv, the construction, we’ll deal with it,” Hill said. “We’ll be up here the rest of the season. We had a good turnout, our fans showed up, we got the support. It’s nice not to have to travel.”

Would’ve been even nicer with just one goal.