Aiming to improve on last season’s disappointing semi final loss and progress to the league finals, reserves faced United FC for the 3rd time this season. Both teams had strong squads with plenty of subs despite the Thu night kick-off time, and as expected the game developed into a tough battle from start to finish. United had the upper hand in the first 5 minutes, and Shane had to be quick off his line to prevent an early chance from the usual over-the-top ball. Our original plan was then blown with the wind when Hamza had to come off. Still, we took over the initiative in the next 10 minutes, and although we were not connecting too many passes, we were also quite effective in preventing United from controlling the game as they did against us in the state cup. United’s main approach consisted of stringing a few passes and then hitting the ball over the top from our right side with Ryan particularly busy defending. However, we actually conceded from the opposite side in the 39th minute. Andy was probably fouled and lost the ball, the ref who was struggling to keep things in order all night ignored the plea, and a United player arrowed a shot perfectly in the corner from distance. We did quite a few things well in the first half and perhaps should not have been down, but overall United were better and Shane combined with Greg to prevent a sure 2nd late on.
The plan for the 2nd half was to increase the pressure gradually and if necessary go all in for the equalizer in the last 15 minutes. We were executing well early on and were able to pin United back for longer stretches. The game was also getting more physical with both the tackles and the occasional diving from United players increasing. Alberto had our best chance midway through the half, but his header in traffic was saved low by the keeper and cleared on the 2nd attempt. United were not creating a threat at this point, but our intention to add more offense was hampered when Devin had to walk off with an injury. With the clock ticking, we were preparing to throw on a 3rd striker, but just then, Andy took a free kick from way out and out of nowhere produced a bolt straight into the left side of the net. With 8 minutes plus stoppage time still to go, both teams were unwilling to settle for penalties, and things got chippy when an altercation between Ryan and a United midfielder led to a questionable double red. That left us a bit exposed in the back, and we would have paid for it if the United strikers had produced a better finish.
We have had several penalty shootouts in the past few years, both winning an losing some, and although we went with our most experienced guys this time around, we came up short. Andy scored the first one, but Alberto and Greg both had their penalties saved by the keeper. Mike D kept us in it, but United converted all four to advance. Final score 1-1 (2 – 4 pks).