Interboro keeps its cool in win over Penn Wood

GLENOLDEN >> John Mansaray wasn’t in a talkative mood Thursday.

His Penn Wood squad had just dropped a fiery 2-1 decision to Interboro at South Avenue Athletic Complex and Mansaray’s centrality to his team’s most threatening chances didn’t help his disposition.

One thing brightened his outlook, though: Articulating the feeling when the Del Val League rivals collide.

“It’s like playing the youth World Cup,” Mansaray said. “It’s too much to say. Both teams played well.”

Thursday’s tilt entered the lexicon of classics recently authored by the two reigning powers of the Del Val who could both find space in the District One Class AAA playoffs in what would be a monumental coup.

Interboro's Kyle Dutch (29) and Penn Wood's Prince Bla (6) fight for the header during the Bucs' 2-1 Del Val League win Thursday. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)
Interboro’s Kyle Dutch (29) and Penn Wood’s Prince Bla (6) fight for the header during the Bucs’ 2-1 Del Val League win Thursday. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)

The first 17 minutes Thursday featured three goals. The game devolved from there, with referees struggling to control play perpetually on the brink of boiling over. But in the instances where someone wasn’t appealing to a referee for direction, the passages of soccer were lively and direct.

Mansaray was often at the center. He saw a yellow card for diving in the box when it appeared Interboro goalkeeper Brandon Welden caught a piece of the man and none of the ball charging off his line in the 57th minute. Both players stuck to their sides of the story postgame on that interaction. Mansaray had traveled to the spot already, converting in the 17th minute after an Interboro infraction that caught everyone by surprise.

The less morally ambiguous moment arrived with 4:45 left on the clock. Prince Bla cracked open the back line with a superb ball from deep in midfield, allowing Mansaray to latch onto the ball down the left channel. He got there first, took a touch to outpace a defender and blistered a shot low across Welden’s face that the lanky goalie reflexively kicked out to deny in fine fashion.

“I’m coming in, and all I can think is, ‘don’t let the ball go in the net,’” the junior shot-stopper said. “That’s my job. That’s why I’m out there. I had to do it for the team. … It’s all reaction time. When he’s coming in there like that, there’s nothing you can do but throw your body out there and get the ball.”

In the moments when the referees’ quizzical decisions were taken out of the equation, the play flowed with verve and creativity.

Interboro got on the board in the seventh minute, with Josh Encarnacion spotting a wide-open Joey Pitts on a free kick from the halfway line and lofting a pass that the midfielder volleyed home just over the head of Penn Wood goalkeeper Goodwill Agbaadem.

Three minutes later, Interboro’s attacking sparkplug, Diego Lopez, produced a sensational strike. He waited for Andre Bucher’s throw-in to bound over a defender, then blasted a volley from near the right touchline that knuckled over Agbaadem, caromed off the inside of the far post and went in. The foundation seemed to be in place for another high-scoring affair — like the 6-5 shootout the teams played last year, or the 4-2 affair that Penn Wood (7-4, 4-1) won three weeks ago despite a first-half red card. Instead, hotter heads prevailed.

Interboro's Diego Lopez (10) and Penn Wood's Andrew Nmah (11) fight for possession Thursday night. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)
Interboro’s Diego Lopez (10) and Penn Wood’s Andrew Nmah (11) fight for possession Thursday night. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)

Relations were so strained that numerous stoppages were required late in the first half, including three yellow cards issued to Interboro (8-4, 4-1) for dissent. The volatile atmosphere necessitated a change of tack at halftime, with Encarnacion, whose name went in the book, leading the de-escalation. “Around three minutes (left), I told Coach (Nick Dostellio), let’s just bring everyone over to the goal mouth at half and calm everyone down,” Encarnacion said. “We’ve got to forget about it. We can’t control it, it’s over and we still have 40 minutes of soccer left.” The game got increasingly stretched over the final 10 minutes, with the midfield regularly bypassed for Mansaray and Lopez to try their hands one-v-one against the backlines. Encarnacion had the ball in the back of the net in the 69th minute, but it was called off for a foul after Agbaadem juggled a free kick. Lopez stung a set piece off the crossbar with eight minutes left, then Agbaadem produced a second sensational save with two minutes left, flashing a glove up to nudge a Lopez drive over the bar. Through the occasional acrimony, both sides had opportunities to decide the game on the field, with Interboro carving its claim to a shared league title. “It’s a bad feeling because I hate to lose,” Mansaray said, “but at the end of the day, I have to accept the fact that it’s soccer.” “It’s like Barcelona-Real Madrid,” Encarnacion said. “Just the back-and-forth nature of the game, it’s awesome to be a part of.”

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