It was a Sunday matinee kick-off for Bryan Reynolds and Westerlo as they looked to gain points in their pursuit of a place in next season’s Europa Conference League when Cercle Brugge came to town. Things didn’t go according to plan however as the Roma loanee was responsible for giving up a penalty in this battle that ended 5-3 in favor of the Green and Blacks of Brugge.
On a more positive note, 20-year-old American Griffin Yow, who had been on the bench a couple of times this season, finally made his professional Belgian debut for Westerlo, coming on in the 83rd minute for Dorgeles Nene.
Both Thibo Somers and Ayase Ueda scored braces for Cercle but they were outdone by Dorgeles who struck a hat-trick in a losing effort.
Just a few minutes into the game and KVC was already having problems clearing the ball out of their box. In the fifth minute, the ball was sent out wide to Olivier Deman. His shot from a tight angle caught Sinan Bolat off guard but the touch from close range by Somers did the damage as the Turkish keeper couldn’t react quickly enough. This was just the beginning of a goal-fest at Het Kuipje.
Some minutes later the hosts created half a chance when Maxim De Cuyper sent the ball down the field for his Japanese teammate and Matsuo latched onto it, ran down the wing, and spotted Nacer Chadli in the box. Just as the Belgian international went to pull the trigger, a defender came flying in to snuff out the chance.
The game turned back in favor of the visitors and it was a bad tackle that gave them a good opportunity with a free-kick from 30 yards out. The ball sails into the box but Roman Neustaedter is able to head it out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, for Westerlo, Reynolds clumsily brought down a Brugge boy and was shown a yellow card as the ball was placed on the spot. Ueda, who has 13 Japanese senior caps, put enough pace on the ball to get it past Bolat, who guessed the right way but didn’t get down quickly enough. After 18 minutes it’s 2-0.
Five minutes later Dorgeles made a nice run up the field, making a few defenders look quite ordinary in the process. As he got into the box, his touch was a bit heavy and the keeper got to it first but everybody in the stadium except for the referee thought it was a penalty.
Back at the other end, after a few one-two passes with a pair of teammates, Ueda threatened. Getting around a marker, he swiveled and shot from close range but this time the Turkish keeper was ready and easily made the save. He then got a second chance soon afterward but this time it went into the cheap seats.
Cercle played as if they were on the training field with Westerlo offering very little resistance. The hosts’ plan seemed to be looking for a break and then sending long balls to Dorgeles on the right and Matsuo on the left but it created nothing from this game plan.
Reynolds then burst forward up the right wing, outpacing everyone. He spotted Chadli making a run into the box and laid a sweet ball right in the center of the box for the Belgian international, but he somehow missed the target, hitting it on the wrong side of the near post. It was thus far their best chance of the half. That was until the 39th minute when they were finally able to celebrate lighting up the scoreboard. This was to be the first of three on the afternoon for the midfielder from Mali.
Just before the half, however, the two-goal cushion was restored. As Cercle came forward in numbers, Leonardo Lopes found himself with the ball 22 yards out. Nobody seemed interested in closing him down, so the Portuguese midfielder lined up his shot and struck it into the top right-hand corner of the inside netting. And that wasn’t the end of the first-half goals.
This time in a crowded 18-yard box, Dino Hotic got a shot off, but Bolat pushed it away. The referee, Lawrence Visser, blew his whistle and once again pointed to the spot. It was Maxim De Cuyper who was the guilty defender this time. However, the official was called to the sideline by the video assistant referee and after several minutes of deliberation and head scratching, he ran back onto the field and again pointed to the spot. Ueda did the honors again and this time sent the keeper the wrong way. The goal came in the fourth minute of stoppage time and gave Cercle a very comfortable 4-1 half-time lead.
After the re-start it soon became obvious that Miron Muslic’s men were not going to be happy with the four goals and looked for more. They immediately won a corner kick that was played short but Hotic’s half-decent attempt was too close to Bolat.
The attacks continued. As a matter of fact, there were 14 shots fired in anger compared to just five from Westerlo.
Sticking to their game plan just 10 minutes into the second half, Yusuke Matsuo was sent down the middle of the field. Just before the defender was able to attempt a tackle, the 25-year-old midfielder on loan from Urawa Red Diamonds in the J. League centered the ball for Dorgeles who got off his shot only to see Radek Majecki push it away from his goal. The Polish keeper didn’t push it away far enough, allowing the Malian man to get a second chance and this time he didn’t miss.
The joy on the faces of Westerlo fans was short-lived because their team’s inability to clear the ball out of the area was again their downfall. The Brugge-born Somers found the ball at his feet just at the top of the 18-yard box and with a hard and true shot rippled the net for his second of the evening and seventh of the season.
Dorgeles’ hat trick came in the 75th minute and this time his Japanese teammate was credited with the assist. It was a long-range strike to be proud of as Matsuo worked the ball down the flank and slid it over to his teammate who blasted it into the top right-hand corner. Reynolds would be subbed off before the restart.
With just seven minutes left on the clock, Jonas De Roeck figured that it was time for his other American to make his long-awaited debut. Griffin Yow, a DC United product, was given just a small cameo but slotted into the team easily and didn’t look out of place. Hopefully, he’ll see more minutes before the playoffs end.
With time running out and a two-goal cushion, Cercle kept pushing forward, but in the end, tired legs prevailed and they had to be happy with the 5-3 scoreline.
“We didn’t come out with enough energy and we knew that we had to match their intensity and we didn’t in the first half,” Reynolds told YA after the game.
“It was unfortunate that we gave up two penalties, and I gave up one as well. Both penalties were really soft but those are things you can’t control in the game. When the referee makes a decision, he makes a decision.
“We had chances as well and we didn’t score. Personally, I don’t think it was my best game but I can’t let it eat me up. But today it hurts.
Admittedly the team did put on a much better display than their first half, which was a half the team would probably want to forget.
“When we play like we played in the second half it hurts because you know that if we come out with the energy we have, we have a lot of possibilities to at least come out with a point to win the game at home. But it’s just disappointing right now,” the Texan stated.
To their credit, Westerlo seemed to be a very different team coming out of the locker room after the intermission and Reynolds said that was down to the coach.
“The coach told us, honestly, that we’re not playing with our heart,” he recalled. “It doesn’t matter what talent you have because if you’re not playing with heart, then you’re not going to get a result and every game is going to be difficult. He said don’t care about the scoreline, just go out there and play your football and that’s what we did and obviously, the second half was 100 times better than the first half.”
It is said that you learn more from your defeats than from your victories and the Yank felt that the team had something to take away from this game.
“We know that we can’t come out 80 percent, we have to always come out 100 percent every game. And that’s all we can take away from this game,” Reynolds said.
Westerlo’s loss leaves them at the bottom of the four-team play-off pile on 26 points, with Gent at the top on 34, so it wouldn’t be too harsh to say that their European aspirations have ended. They will carry on however and travel to Standard Liege where the two Americans will meet up with Marlon Fossey and les Rouches on Saturday night.