Bobby de Jesus slumped on the seat in the grandstand. Pasargad’s UFL Cup campaign had come to a grinding halt at the hands of nemesis Nomads FC. It was a 1-nil loss.
Although Nomads dominated possession, the goal, a 25 yard-strike by Randy Musters, was a fluke. Musters tried to send it inside the box but overshot his target. The ball, however, was struck well enough that it drifted further towards the goal. By the time Pasargad keeper Abdollah Golkhah realized it was on target, he stumbled back toward his line and the ball curved right in before the far post. Goal!
As Nomads celebrated, Golkhah knelt in front of his goal. He knew his blunder could have very well cost Pasargad the game and the tournament.
As soon as the ball found the back of the net, De Jesus turned around to face his bench. He was looking for a game changer for his embattled squad, but he was fast running out of substitutes. Finding none, he turned back towards the pitch and issued some instructions.
De Jesus was invited by Essi Sedigh to coach Pasargad at the last minute. The two worked together briefly at the Philippine Football Federation, with the latter working on the futsal program while the former handled some grassroots projects. De Jesus was now handling the Ilocos Football Association, and he shuttled back and forth between the northern province and Manila for the UFL matches on weekends.
Pasargad was not a wholly Iranian club anymore. There were only three pure Iranians on the club – Golkhah, team captain Ahmad Seifi, and Mansour Madadi, who had played second division football in Iran with Rah Ahan and Tractor Sazi. The rest of the lineup was a mixture of Fil-Iranians, Nigerians, Filipinos, and a Cameroonian. But more the United Nations flavor of the squad, what was more important was to get the team to jell.
Pasargad was clearly not the team it once was, when it dominated the old UFL with three championships and three other first runners-up finishes. The team’s brief hiatus cost it a spot in Division I and striker Misagh Bahadoran, who moved to Global FC. Pasargad was in a rebuilding stage and was clearly in need of some more pieces to its puzzle.
It barely qualified for the Round of 16 and needed a late miracle from Navid Khorsani to steal two points from a frustrated Green Archers United. Pasargad was tied with Forza with 3 points but the Iranian expat club had a match at hand. The point accrued from the draw with Green Archers sent it through the next round.
It turns out that Pasargad would play just one more match before bowing out.
Nomads was concerned with Pasargad playing deep and in a more defensive formation. When there was an opportunity, De Jesus’ side went on the counter. Nomads forward Steve Borrill thought that his side played well in patches but Pasargad’s defense and Golkhah, never mind if he was shaky for the match, was superb.
Borrill had been marked well by Pasargad and was somewhat rendered a non-factor by the Iranians. A such, target man Phil Connolly was left to maraud by his lonesome with occasional help from Alastair McCready’s well placed crosses.
De Jesus noted that Nomads’ strength has been its midfield. “The build up in their attack is very good,” he said. “If we can stop them there then we can hit them on the counter.”
It was a sound tactic. The problem was Pasargad’s attack could have used a little more fluidity. As it was last week against Green Archers, Charles Ujam or Peter Ndupuechi were oft on solo flights without any support. With two or three defenders bearing down on the Pasargad forwards, in truth it wasn’t a pretty sight. Madadi and Jay-Ar Inventor tried to make headway along the right wing but the passing left much to be desired as they proved to be easy pickings for Nomads’ mids. Pasargad had some opportunities to score including that 67th minute attack where defender Mark Johnson blocked a Ndupuechi strike but the finishing was far from clinical and on the money.
And speaking of Nomads’ defense, Musters had not only scored the crucial second half goal but he repeatedly turned back Ujam and Ndupuechi.
Both squads took one match from one another in last year’s Division Two play (aside from the many battles over the years) and if there was one thing that Nomads head coach Mick Denison was worried about it was Pasargad’s ability to score late goals.
Pasargad, named after the capital of former Persian emperor Cyrus the Great (that has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site), attacked with desperation following Musters’ goal. For the first time since the early stages of the match, they sent waves of attackers. But Nomads had made timely substitutions on both offense and defense and as Denison said, “Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.”
With Chris Phillimore attacking up front, Pasargad had to reallocate some resources to the back instead of marshalling its field players for a final push. The two minutes of added time slipped away ever so quickly that as soon as their chance for another miracle was extinguished in the midfield, referee Wilfred Bermejo blew his whistle.
It was a 1-nil win for Nomads. Last year’s second division champions, who had been promoted to Division I had its revenge after a 2-1 loss last season. Nomads, with their best team in a decade, was off to the next round. Four straight wins and they had yet to concede a goal. Denison’s squad celebrated and thanked their boisterous supporters.
Pasargad slumped on their bench with dejection written all over their faces. Sedigh shrugged and managed a weak smile. De Jesus tried to mask the pain. “We need to do some work,” he muttered.
The return to greatness for Pasargad will have to wait.