Judging from the smiles and opening goodwill handshake there was no denying what took place last night at Cedar Lane Park was exhibition soccer, but that didn't erase the sting of the 2-0 loss for the Maryland Bays, or the thoughts of what could have been.
On paper, it was easy for skeptics to say that the Bays were overmatched by the Sheffield Wednesday club team from the British First Division.
However, when it came time to play the game, the Bays "gave them a go," as several of the British players would admit after their victory.
"We scouted their game Sunday night against Penn-Jersey and we knew this would not be an easy game," said Sheffield coach Trevor Francis, who also played much of the second half and got an assist on the second goal.
The Bays had a plethora of opportunities in the first 45 minutes -- Jean Harbor shooting wide, Phillip Gyau shooting high, a perfect pass in front that went untouched -- but had to settle for a scoreless first half.
"I really feel that if we could have gotten one up on them early it might have been a different game," said Kevin Sloan, who along with Harbor has been the most consistent offensive threat for the Bays this season. "We controlled the play in the first half and we couldn't take advantage of our opportunities. In the second half they finished their plays and put it in."
Midfielder Steve Mackenzie took a loose ball in front and jammed it off the crossbar past Steve Powers for Sheffield's first score at 48:25. After the Bays threatened once again, with Harbor shooting wide on goalie Kevin Pressman, Francis made a perfect feed to forward Paul Williams who added the icing score.
"We were in it until then," said defender Joe Barger. "But that second goal killed all of the momentum we had built."
Bays coach Gary Hindley said he was quite happy with his team's ability to create chances on the feisty Sheffield defense.
"It's difficult beating a team like this because they are so skilled all over the field," Hindley said. "With the opportunities we had -- and we had good opportunities -- you have to wonder if we didn't score because we blew it or because their defense was pressuring us so well.
"It looked like my guys were a half step behind, but it could be that they were just a half step quicker," he said. "They kept good defensive position the entire game and they got the shutout."
For the Bays organization and for soccer in the area, the game was a rousing success. The unlikely matchup of American soccer vs. British football attracted an overflow crowd of 3,812, with many youngsters pounding the surrounding wooden boards an attempt to ignite the Bays' offense late in the game.
"We gave the fans a good show," Hindley said. "There was a lot of excitement. We just wish we could have won it. I think we gave Sheffield the kind of game they wanted to prepare for their regular season [which begins Aug. 17]. It was also a good chance to show them that soccer in America is getting better