Midland-Odessa FC head coach Matt Barnes had only three bench players at his disposal Saturday night due to injuries and late season departures.
Fortunately for MOFC, one of those bench players was forward Zach Penner, who is developing a reputation for being a clutch scorer.
Penner scored in the 71st minute to propel Midland-Odessa FC to a 1-0 victory over visiting Inter Nashville FC in the National Premier Soccer League South Region Final at Grande Communications Stadium. It was the second straight match where Penner scored a second-half goal to lead MOFC to a 1-0 win in a playoff match.
Midland-Odessa FC advanced to play Detroit City FC, the Midwest Region champion, in the NSPL national semifinals, Aug. 5th at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck, Michigan.
“We’re here to try to chase a national championship every year and now you’re starting to see it come to fruition every year,” Barnes said. “I don’t think people realize how hard it is to do. We don’t get returners ever. It’s a new group every year and for us to take a whole new group in a whole new league with no experience back to the final four, I’m so proud of these boys. It’s really emotional for me.”
Inter Nashville FC gave Midland-Odessa FC all it could handle in the contest, as it compiled seven shots on goal compared to six by MOFC, and also had more corner kicks by a 5-3 margin.
In a hard-fought defensive affair, Midland-Odessa FC finally broke through when Ricardo Palomino dribbled through the Inter Nashville FC defense, and passed to Penner, who delivered the game-winning score.
“A goal is a goal, it just happened to be the winning goal that set us through to the final four,” Penner said. “That’s what we are here for. We’re going for number 1, that’s the next stop.”
In the waning seconds, Penner stole the ball on Inter Nashville FC’s final possession and did some nifty dribbling through its defense as time expired.
Midland-Odessa FC goalkeeper Braulio Linares-Ortiz recorded his second straight shutout with seven saves, which included an impressive diving stop in the 77th minute to keep MOFC in the lead.
In addition to the heroics of Linares-Ortiz, Barnes also lauded the performance of defenders Antone Jarvis and Alvaro Rubio.
“We start two new center backs in the last two games and we have two shutouts,” Barnes said. “For me the prize really goes to those two center backs and our goalkeeping. They were fantastic.”
Inter Nashville FC goalkeeper Hayden Coffman registered five saves in a losing cause.
Inter Nashville FC had numerous opportunities to score in both the early part of the first and second halves.
“We came close,” Inter Nashville FC coach Richard Askey said. “We were mightily disappointed. This is the worst we have played all season to be honest with you. We did create chances, but in the second half, maybe the traveling got to us a little bit and the heat. We just couldn’t find that second gear in the second half. It’s so unfortunate because we have been brilliant all season long.”