FALL RIVER, Mass. – A massive brawl that erupted three minutes before full time prematurely ended Sunday’s contest between East Providence Sports and Safira F.C., which claimed a season-opening 3-0 victory at the newly-renovated Billy Gonsalves Field.
With the game all but over in the 87th minute, tempers flared between the two sides after a Safira player clutched his head after he was apparently elbowed by an East Providence player behind the run of play. After goalkeeper Renato Paiva exchanged words with Joaquim DePina, the customary curse words and light pushing gave way to wild punches and takedowns. Both coaches and substitutes rushed to the scene to break up the brawl, and Fall River Police arrived on the scene shortly afterward.
An ambulance arrived shortly after to attend to DePina, but he declined to be brought to a local hospital. The referee and his assistants were conspicuously absent once the players were separated, and the game was called without a single red card issued.
It is unclear what, if any, fines and/or suspensions the league will levy against the clubs for their roles in the late-game fisticuffs. League president Carlos Goulart was in attendance, and was seen speaking to police as both teams exited the field.
Prior to the melee’, Safira benefited from an own goal (40′) before Alex Alves (67′) and Juliezer Da Silva (75′) scored while Paiva made four saves to record the clean sheet. East Providence, playing its first LUSA match since claiming the “double” in last year’s Super Cup final, suffered one of its worst losses in recent memory.
Although Safira did not compete in LUSA last season, they wasted few opportunities to get under their opponents’ skin. A pair of yellow cards were issued to Safira players, who did well to throw East Providence off its game early.
Five minutes from the interval, Alves took advantage of space along the right and carried to the near post, where he put a shot on Jimmi Underhill, who stopped the initial shot. But Alves kept the pressure on a nearby East Providence defender, who inadvertently tapped it into his own net.
Alves struck again after the hour when he grabbed a turnover inside the East Providence have and snuck it inside the far post to make it a two-goal game in the 67th minute.
Underhill made a set of crucial saves to keep his club within striking distance after Alves’ second strike, but there was little he could do when a loosely-marked Da Silva ripped a rocket from the edge of the box that lodged itself into the upper 90 during the 75th minute.
East Providence will return to action on Sunday, Apr. 19 when they face Casa do Benfica at Shore Street Field at 7pm while Safira is set to play Washington Park Benfica on a date to be determined later this week.