Assistant Sports Editor
MANCHESTER -- The Vermont Voltage had hours upon hours of invaluable, chemistry-building practice time stored away. Their counterparts, the Southern Vermont All-Stars, had a matter of minutes.
"These guys play together a lot, the Voltage, so they positionally are in much better places, know where each other are and play to each other’s strengths," said Southern Vermont midfielder Alex Elias. "A lot of us learned each other’s names for the first times [today]."
And, without a hint of hesitation, the Voltage pegged a fifth-minute goal to hammer that point home en route to securing a 2-0 exhibition victory in front of several hundred fans at Applejack Field on Wednesday afternoon.
The All-Stars, a collection of experienced and high school-age local men’s soccer players, succumbed to two first-half strikes before seizing more of the play after the break.
But against a semi-professional side like the Voltage, which competes in the USL Premier Developmental League, the odds were always going to be tough. The Voltage, led by midfielder Bo Vuckovic, a former professional player and the team’s owner, are also ripe with Division I-caliber college talent.
"Half of the guys, we hadn’t seen until today," said All-Stars defender Brenton Pinkus, the Burr and Burton Academy assistant coach who organized the Southern Vermont squad. "It’s always going to be difficult because [the Voltage] are playing together every week, they’re young, they’re fit ... they’re playing together on a daily basis.
"Today was a pretty competitive game. We had quite a few chances to score, we were very solid -- especially in the second half."
The day’s first shot on target also produced the opening goal.
A little over four minutes into the contest, Vuckovic looped a diagonal ball into the left side of the box from the right flank. Striker Bozidar Jelovac beat All-Stars goalkeeper Andrew Wu (four saves) to the ball and flicked it into the far corner with a neat, right-footed chip.
"It was beautiful," Vuckovic said of the finish. "It was a run behind the defenders, I was looking in one direction and then passed diagonally. We practice those things and it paid off."
Early on, the hosts’ pressure up the pitch only seemed to open up more spaces for the Voltage.
"In the first half, especially, we got pulled apart and they found a lot of seams and we just chased for 45 minutes," said Elias, a 2004 BBA alum and former All-American captain at Middlebury College.
In the 30th minute, the Voltage doubled the lead with a penalty kick. Following an All-Stars foul in the box after another long through-ball, Liam Gilbert beat Wu’s outstretched arms inside the right post.
At halftime, Southern Vermont altered its tactics and kept the Voltage from creating the same chances they had in the first half.
"We withdrew a forward and kind of played a 4-5-1, with one of the forwards just sitting in as a central midfielder, and I think we were much more effective that way," Elias said. "We got behind the ball and made it harder for them to play through us."
The Voltage opted to sit back as well, though, and had to weather a few late chances for keepers Ryan Brooks-Newton and Amir Pasic to combine for a six-save clean sheet.
"We wanted to counter-attack a little more. We had a two-goal lead and it was pretty hot, so we wanted to save our energy," Vuckovic said.
Trevor Kotrady nearly got one back for the All-Stars in the 81st minute but Pasic made an acrobatic, point-blank save when Kotrady tried to redirect a long shot from outside the box. The rebound fell behind Pasic but rolled just wide of the right post.
The teams meet for a rematch on Aug. 4 in St. Albans.
"They know we’re competitive now. The first year we actually beat them so since that happened, they kind of stepped it up and they take it as a very serious game," Pinkus said.