By Connor Lee/Northern Virginia United FC
A game between the top two teams in the Mid-Atlantic Conference saw Northern Virginia
United FC drop its first points of 2019, with Virginia Beach City FC winning 1-0 to remain top
of the conference.
The early kickoff made the conditions slightly more difficult than the home side had faced all
season, and the pace of the game showed the impact the heat had on the players early on. United
winger Alex Garuba had the first chance of the afternoon, firing straight at goalkeeper Christian
Coulon from close range twice in quick succession. United controlled much of the early
possession, but failed to really break down a tough Virginia Beach backline. Bret Halsey and
Chris Little looked most likely to be dangerous for the hosts, with Garuba and Alex Abril
constantly seeking balls played in behind Beach’s wide backs.
City midfielder Cesar Gervacio was their most influential player in the first half, but the slow
pace of the game and organized defensive setups of both teams did not facilitate any dynamic
attacks from either side. Gervacio went into the referee’s book in the 21st for a foul on Alex
Shahmirzadi, who was breaking dangerously towards the Virginia Beach defense. Garuba would
see yellow for a dangerous tackle from behind in the 27th. Two minutes later, the first real
dangerous attack of the game almost led to a United opener. Good interplay down the left saw
Alex Abril ghost in behind the Virginia Beach right back, and Abril’s flick-on found a streaking
Chris Little who fired into the bottom right corner for what seemed like the breakthrough only to
have the goal called back.
United struggled with the defensive line of the visitors throughout the first half, racking up six
offside calls before the break. The disallowed goal seemed to galvanize the home side, who
were able to find Abril’s feet more as the first half went on. The United forward saw several
half-chances go begging, as Beach players were able to recover and make blocks on his shots
following some tricky dribbles. The teams entered the halftime break at 0-0, with the home side
visibly frustrated that all their pressure had not led to a breakthrough.
The second half started without much in the way of fireworks, and the conditions continued to
have an impact on the pace of the game. United tried to inject some life into the game with the
introduction of Kahlil Dover and John Fuquene early in the second half, with Dover (who had
replaced Abril) playing the role of target man against a large Virginia Beach back four. Fuquene
saw yellow in the 63rd for a challenge.
Virginia Beach also made several changes, with the addition of Abdoulie Wadda up front on the
left giving United right back Filip Burnett some extra defensive duties. Sky Blues left back Jake
Campbell began to drive attacks from the back after some particularly fierce tackles, but again
the home sides advances came to nothing. Nick Short entered the game for the hosts in the 68th
minute, and his business in between the defensive block of the visitors began to open up some
channels to slip balls through. Short rocketed a shot wide of Coulon’s goal after good interplay
with Garuba, and defender Sam Golan must have thought he had scored before his looping
header hit the crossbar and was wrongly ruled out of play as the second half wound down.
Then, in the 87th minute, Virginia Beach stole all three points against the run of play. United
had committed a number of players forward seeking the winner, and leaving gaps at the back that
the away side quickly broke into following a big clearance. The ball found its way to Wadda,
who turned defender Jack Rawlins and scuffed a shot past Colin Shutler into the bottom corner to
all but seal the game for Virginia Beach. Wadda was subsequently booked for removing his shirt
in celebration, but it mattered not as the result would see the away side remain top of the Mid-
Atlantic Conference for another weekend.
United next travel Friday to FC Baltimore in conference play, while Virginia Beach pay a visit to
Charlottesville Alliance FC.
Photo Credit: Ciara Strickland/The New Mix