Photo: Martin Bazyl
Sigma striker Leaford Allen (69') got his sixth of the season as the home side toppled Sanjaxx 3-1 at Hershey Centre.
Both sets of players had difficulty settling the ball in the early going as unseasonable cold and wind wrought havoc in open play, but Sigma - currently level on points with FC London at the top of west division - appeared to start the more confident of the two teams.
"I think Sigma took advantage in the first half with the wind behind them," said Sanjaxx head coach, Peter Mellon. "It forced us to make errors."
Sigma's wide forwards Marcel Zajac and Kadell Thomas were especially effective in the first half, picking up the ball at the bylines and successfully running at defenders, creating quality attacking moves.
"We wanted the ball on the ground predominantly, a lot of short, intricate passing and moving the ball up the field a bit slower," said Sigma head coach, Bobby Smyrniotis. "I think we had a much better second half even though we played against the conditions."
Photo: Martin Bazyl
Zajac (9') was the first to get on the sheet, finishing a penalty after Allen was hauled down inside the box. Sanjaxx keeper Matt Zaikos had little chance on the penalty, but came up big for the Lions throughout the half - making a half dozen flying saves to keep out solid efforts on target.
Sanjaxx did well to build up play under Sigma pressure, but were rushed and anxious in the attacking third. Central midfielder Thomas Winski had the best chance of the half, after a direct ball from centre back Zorimullah left him one on one with Sigma GK Corey Marques. Winski scuffed the finish though, sending just wide of Marques' left hand corner.
Sigma could not make their dominance of possession count for more goals, and Sanjaxx made them pay in the sixty-fourth minute as central forward Hilliard Serrao unleashed an unstoppable laser from 25 yards out.
Hilliard Serrao (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
"In the second half I told the boys to come out and take advantage of the conditions," said Mellon. "Hilliard scored a brilliant goal from outside the area. I thought we were in the game up to that point and we lost our way after that."
"We had chances today but didn't take them, it's something that we'll be working on for sure."
Following the Sanjaxx goal, Sigma appeared to have some urgency in their step, and another attacking wave resulted in Allen pulling away from the last defender and curling one beyond Zaikos with less than half an hour left in the contest.
"I think in the first half we controlled the tempo but didn't have the final product, we didn't put away chances," said Smyrniotis. "At half-time we discussed being a little more bold in that part of the field and getting players closer together. I think our players got a bit isolated in the first half."
Shortly thereafter Sigma head coach Bobby Smyrniotis made some tactical tweaks, bringing in Mike Matic at central midfield and moving Syracuse University's Chris Nanco from a central midfield role to find more space on the right flank. The change paid off immediately, as Nanco used pace and trickery to beat his marker, centering for Matic (75') to score on his second touch. It would be the final goal of the night.
"I think bringing through some subs in the second half got fresh legs and a different look and it ended up working out," concluded Smyrniotis.
"We wanted a different energy late in the game, and we have a lot of depth in the team. Both Nanco and Matic just recently came back to the team from school, and we knew we had that quality on the bench. It's important for everyone to be getting minutes and keeping that competitive edge in the team."
Corey Marques (Photo: Martin Bazyl)