With regrets about dropping two points in their season opener at the Ontario Soccer Centre in May, Windsor Stars set about amending the record at home with a 4-0 defeat of Internacional de Toronto. The clean sheet, and efficient dispatch of the four goals, displayed a home fortress mentality that will make future visitors wary.
Windsor Stars made their intentions clear early in the match. Striker Gino Berardi scored in the second minute, after a great spell of pressure on Internacional’s backline forced the keeper into a mistake – a goal kick was placed short of the defender, and Berardi pounced on the ball, coolly slotting home the finish.
Internacional were searching for a response, but it was the Stars that would score again only three minutes later. A long ball was played ahead, and Berardi squeezed past the defender as they went shoulder to shoulder. The Stars' striker made no mistake, poking the ball past a charging keeper.
Berardi's physical presence continued to give the opposition trouble, and in the seventeenth minute the Stars' man was close to his third of the night. As he gave chase to another great long ball, a desperate Internacional defender Mohammed Habibzi crashed directly into his onrushing keeper causing a short stoppage in play; the game carried on shortly after Habibzi regained breath.
Minutes later, Berardi's hat-trick was nearly on again. Finding the end of a great cross by Brett Holmberg, Berardi sent his shot agonizingly over the crossbar.
After twenty-five minutes of play, a clear tone had been set in the match. The game plan for Internacional was to play long balls to their target man Raheen Edwards, who rotated between flanks. Windsor had repeatedly stomped out any threat posed by the forward, but Internacional continued to try their luck through the pacy Edwards.
Stars were awarded a free kick after Internacionals’ Diego Abascal brought down Berardi in the twenty-sixth minute, but defender Patrick Lapera – who got on the score-sheet in the first meeting between these two sides – stepped up to take a shot that sailed over the crossbar.
Heading towards the break, the tempo of the match slowed in what appeared to be anticipation of the break, and a chance to take stock over the early proceedings. In the fortieth minute, Raheen Edwards, now playing a more central role, drove with the ball through the middle of the Stars' defence. For a moment it looked like the forward would give his side something to cheer about, but once again the Windsor back-line extinguished the chance.
Right before the half, the ref cautioned Stars' defender Jamar Kelly; both teams promptly headed towards the dressing rooms with the Stars leading 2-0.
It seemed head coach Nolberto Solano had given his charges an inspiring half-time talk, as Internacional de Toronto came out of the dressing room with a marked determination. Edwards had a chance in the opening stages, but his shot failed to test veteran keeper Anthony Santili.
After applying a great deal of pressure, it appeared Internacional could be left vulnerable to the counter attack. Sure enough, Stars broke on a 3v2, after a great layoff by Lapera to Stars stiker Berardi. Holmberg made a darting run to the far post, but perhaps with one eye on the hat-trick Berardi’s attempt failed to find a goal.
In the fifty-sixth minute, Internacional's Alex Flores had a great close range effort denied by an equally strong reflex save from Santili, and then the match began to take on a different personality.
After a well-contested first half, the foul count clearly began to rise in the second, making for a stop-and-start affair. It suited the Stars well. The taller of the two sides, many of Internacionals’ set-pieces simply found the head of a Stars' defender.
In the sixtieth minute, Eric Cirovski scored his first goal of the season, but it was Brett Holmberg that did much of the heavy lifting on the play. After turning his defender, Holmberg broke into the box well and, with a good chance to shoot, instead elected to lay the ball off to a wide-open Cirovski. Stars' winger Cirovski scored with a well-placed shot.
In the seventieth minute, the Windsor Stars suffered a blow to the backline as central defender Sleiman Habib suffered an ankle injury. The player revealed that he heard a crack before being stretchered off in an ambulance and, while the injury is still unknown, the player may be out for the best part of two months according to the physio. Luckily, for Stars' coach Steve Vaginini, the suspended Chris Suta will be back next week to take on ANB Futbol.
In the seventy-fifth and -sixth minutes, respectively, Internacional's Sergio Ribadeneira received two cautions in quick succession and was ejected from the game. Inexplicably, Ribadeneira had committed a similar tackle right after he was first cautioned. Down to ten men, Solano’s men now had a mountain to climb.
The elevation of that mountain increased significantly as Windsor's Michael Pio displayed great control to beat several players, and the keeper, with a deft pass around the last man to set himself up for the easy tap-in.
With the fourth goal in the net, Windsor tightened up their shape and sat back. Waves of Internacional attacks struggled to threaten the heart of the Stars' defence; Miguel Gallo's late stage effort was one of few to penetrate the Stars, but the shot lacked the necessary pace to threaten Santili, or the final scoreline.
By Ibrahim, Ali