By Connor Lee/Northern Virginia United FC
Northern Virginia United returned to Evergreen Sportsplex on Thursday night, successfully
defending their home turf against in-state rivals Charlottesville Alliance FC by a score of 1-0.
The match had promised to be a fiery encounter as the last meeting between the sides in
Leesburg produced one of the most entertaining 1-1 draws of the 2018 season, and neither side
disappointed expectations here.
The game got off to a flyer as United’s mercurial winger Alex Garuba hit the bar from distance
inside of five minutes, while a few minutes later Charlottesville’s Kennedy Nwabia nearly got in
behind United’s back four but could not find a finish. Nwabia looked to be Charlottesville’s
danger man, constantly finding space in the channels to trouble United’s Jake Campbell and Filip
Burnett. Garuba continued to be United’s best outlet, giving the home fans a cheer after beating
three Alliance players in tight space with some fantastic quick feet.
Despite all this, the early going was a game bogged down in a midfield battle, United content to
let Charlottesville maintain possession and then try to break quickly when they won the ball.
Chances for both teams were few and far between in the middle part of the half, with the hosts
going close through Chris Welsh in the 29th minute on a shot from distance following some
good team buildup play.
Charlottesville responded a minute later, and the away side would have taken the lead if not for a
brilliant save from close range by Chris Shutler. The biggest action of the first half came in the
form of a yellow card, the first of many in the game as Nwabia entered the referee’s book in the
36th. United midfielder Chris Little saw two half-chances go begging in the final five minutes,
and Alex Abril went the closest of any player to that point as he hit the post after a great solo run
across the Alliance back four. The game saw its second booking as Garuba was cautioned for a
dangerous tackle right on the stroke of halftime, but the teams would reenter the locker rooms
with the scoreline the same as it had started.
The second half began much as the first had ended, with United pressing a bit more in search of
the opening goal. They found it in the 53rd. A quick counter left Garuba one-on-one with
Charlottesville defender Henry Kessler, and Garuba’s pace and quick feet proved too much as
Kessler inadvertently handled the ball in his sliding challenge. Kessler was subsequently
booked, but Chris Welsh made no mistake with the spot kick, burying it past keeper Ryan Martin
to give United the goal they had been searching for. From here the match continued to get testy,
with the hosts’ Alex Shahmirzadi booked in the 55th. A flurry of substitutions for both sides came around the three-quarter hour mark, with United maybe looking to rest key players ahead
of the weekend clash with Virginia Beach and Charlottesville continuing to chase an equalizer.
The closing stages of the match saw a pair of bookings for United players, with Welsh and
substitute Sam Solomon cautioned. United sub Bret Halsey had a chance to seal the game late,
breaking forward after the hosts cleared their own box. Halsey’s run took him past three
Alliance defenders but the finish scraped the outside of Martin’s left-hand post, leaving the door
open for further drama in the match.
However after stoppage time, the referee’s whistle brought to an end a thoroughly entertaining
contest. “We won a battle today,” said United boss Brian Welsh after the game.
Man of the Match Alex Garuba echoed that same sentiment. “We didn’t have our best game
today, but we got the result and that’s all that matters.”
United play the second of a two-game homestand against Virginia Beach on Saturday, while
Charlottesville wait a week to host VB on June 14th.
Photo Credit: Ryan Leung