There would be 95 minutes of soccer left to play, a round of penalty kicks and several near misses by both sides, but the PSAL Class A city championship turned – in favor of Martin Luther King Jr. and to Beacon’s detriment – in the fifth minute.
That was when striker Baimba Freeman, the Blue Demons’ emotional senior leader and top scorer, was going hard for the ball – as he always does – by the left flank, in MLK territory. Knights’ fullback Emelio Haughton, the team’s physical heartbeat, zeroed in on Freeman, and took him down, a slide tackle from behind.
A foul was called, but no card was given. Freeman, who had one goal and one assist in Beacon’s two regular-season victories over MLK, was in and out of the lineup the rest of the way – his entire right leg was wrapped in tape – but clearly not himself. He was able to run, although gingerly, but the explosiveness that made him one of the city’s most feared finishers was all but gone.
“It was painful sitting on the bench,” he said. “I couldn’t help my team. I tried everything.”
King would go on to win its third consecutive city championship, in penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw, and 11th in 13 seasons.
Afterward Freeman approached Haughton in a non-aggressive manner, asking why he went after him. Haughton said it was a clean play. Either way, it was likely the difference in Beacon’s first loss this season.
“That was their plan – to take me out,” Freeman said. “King couldn’t stop me.”
Countered Haughton: “I didn’t tackle him to hurt him; I tackled him to get the ball. It wasn’t a deliberate action; I did it to protect our goal.”
While Beacon led for much of the way on center midfielder Caetano Sanchez’s 14th-minute goal, there was little attack to speak of. The Blue Demons’ other talented forward, Pascal Louis, didn’t start because of a balky back he reaggravated in Thursday’s semifinal win over Columbus.
“It just takes so much away from our offense,” Beacon coach Alec Mahrer said. “We’re so dynamic with those two guys. It’s an added dimension. It’s such an important part of our game.”
It also allowed Jacobson to push up sweeper Alex Zorrilla over the second part of the match, a move, he admitted, would’ve been far riskier if not for Freeman’s injury.
Beacon still had its chances. Sanchez, the electric midfielder, hit the left post in the 59th minute. He also fed Freeman on a breakout in the third minute of the first overtime, but the senior left it wide. Of course, if he had not been hobbled, that play may have ended differently.