The Baton Rouge Capitals knew the assignment was always going to be tough as they took on the Bradenton Academics in a sweltering Premier Development League clash Sunday night at Olympia Stadium.
The Capitals (1-5-3) were dead last in the United Soccer Leagues’ Southeast Division with six points in eight games. At the other end of the table sat the Academics (7-1-3), with 21 points, two points clear of the second-place Mississippi Brilla.
The Academics had a plus-12 goal differential, while the Capitals were minus-4. Baton Rouge’s roster comprises collegiate players, while the Bradenton is affiliated with the IMG Academy soccer program, which counts U.S. national team players Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu, and Freddy Adu among its alumni.
Ryan Maxwell, who started in midfield for the Academics, was the 15th overall pick in the 2009 Major League Soccer draft.
It was David versus Goliath, but with a 16-ounce leather ball instead of a slingshot.
And David came ever-so-close to making it two-for-two.
Bradenton went home a 2-1 victor, but not without being made to work for the win by a Baton Rouge team that played with 10 men for most of a contentious second half after midfielder Ricardo Santos was ejected for picking up his second yellow card of the game.
Santos’ ejection in the 57th minute — minutes after referee Mark DeCouet ejected Capitals coach Paulo Neto, and minutes before midfielder Renan Serafim went down with an ankle injury suffered in a hard tackle that went unpenalized — breathed life into a Baton Rouge team that was struggling to find its footing in a game DeCouet was rapidly losing control of.
The game was tied 1-1 at that point — Ederson Lopes put Bradenton ahead in the 12th minute with a one-timer shot off a Zac Boggs cross, and Tony Judice leveled the game with a well-placed strike in the 32nd — testimony to the feistiness shown by the Capitals.
“Baton Rouge is one of the better teams we’ve played,” Bradenton coach Tom Durkin. “They’re definitely the most unlucky. They need a little more punch up front and they’ll be good. They definitely move the ball around well.”
While the Academics took the lead for good in the 60th minute when Boggs fired the ball past Baton Rouge goalkeeper Pedro Caetano, the undermanned Baton Rouge squad fought hard throughout.
The Capitals’ best chance to draw level came in the 89th minute when Marc Miller got the ball in the 6-yard box in the middle of a goalmouth scramble, but the substitute was not able to direct the ball goal-ward, and the final whistle blew shortly thereafter, sealing Baton Rouge’s fate.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Neto said. “They refuse to give up. Before this game we were 1-4-3, and we weren’t getting any breaks at home or on the road. They kept fighting, and they’re still fighting, and that’s something to be proud of.
“When we had the same number of players on the field, I thought we had the better of the game.”
Sunday’s game marked the beginning of a three-game home stand for the Capitals, who face the sixth-place Panama City Pirates (2-3-2) on Friday night before hosting the Brilla (5-1-4) on Sunday.