NEWARK, N.J. – Before the game Laurent Manuel told teammate Kene Eze to be ready and get open whenever he took the ball down the right side on the attack.
Early in the second half, Manuel made his move, Eze made sure he got open, and the end result is a conference championship for the Jersey Express teammates.
Eze took the feed just inside the 18 and slotted a shot inside the lower left corner of the net for the tie-breaking goal in the 53rd minute as the Jersey Express went on to defeat the West Virginia Chaos, 3-1, in the PDL Eastern Conference Championship title game on Sunday at NJIT’s Lubetkin Field.
The Express (13-1-2) move on to the PDL Championship round. West Virginia finishes the season with an 8-4-4 record.
“(Laurent) said whenever he gets the ball down the line, he’s going to be looking for me,” said Eze, who scored twice in the victory. “He drove the ball down the line, I made myself open. The defender gave me a little bit of space and I saw the keeper kind of cheating a little bit to the right, so I tucked it into the left corner.”
Spurred on by Eze’s tie-breaking goal, the Express added to their lead just four minutes later when Juan Correa scored on a penalty kick in the 57th minute to put the game away.
Eze’s first goal came in the 30th minute, when he delivered a right-footed blast off an Andrew Tinari cross for a 1-0 lead.
The advantage proved short-lived as a foul in the box gave West Virginia’s Dion Peters a penalty kick in extra time of the first half. The forward capitalized on the opportunity, tying the game moments before the start of the intermission.
“We told ourselves that we played a pretty good (first) half and that we can’t be down on ourselves,” said Eze, who has a team-high nine goals this season in 11 games. “The first five to 10 minutes (of the second half) were going to be key. We had to keep attacking and we couldn’t let them score the next goal.”
Matthew Turner made three saves in net for the Jersey Express in the victory. West Virginia’s Sean Teepen had five saves. For the game, the Jersey Express held a 16-7 advantage in shots and a 3-1 edge in corner kicks.
“This means a lot. We’ve been training hard all season for the competitiveness of all the teams in the PDL,” Eze said. “We just told ourselves that we can compete with anybody. Now, we’re just going to get ready for the next stage.”