2020 Seasons 260×40

Northern Virginia United Fall on the Road to FC Baltimore 2-1

Connor Lee/Northern Virginia United

A key contest in the Mid-Atlantic Conference saw Northern Virginia United fall on the road to
FC Baltimore 2-1, vaulting Baltimore over United in the conference standings as both sides
continue to chase postseason spots.

It was a frustrating evening for the visitors, who withstood substantial pressure from the hosts
while looking dangerous on the counter in a gripping first half, only for their attacks to fizzle out
as the game wore on. Baltimore were almost on the board inside the 10th minute on a move they
would replicate several times during the game. Clever wing play by Tre Pulliam down the left
led to a dangerous cross to the back post, where right back Jonathan Sousa was on hand to tap
home past United keeper Colin Shutler, but the assistant referee’s flag would cut short any
celebrations from the home side.

The hosts would open the scoring minutes later on almost an identical play, with Sousa again
ghosting in at the back post to finish on a fantastic cross from Jonathan Bell on the left.
Baltimore had all the chances in the early going with the visitors offering hints of a threat on the
counter and from set pieces. Alex Garuba went close from distance and Sam Golan from a
corner for the boys in black, but United wouldn’t have to wait long to level the score. An
innocuous ball out to Garuba on the left led to a deflected cross, which found its way to a wide-
open Sam Solomon at the back post who could do nothing but cooly slot the ball past keeper
Casey Beyers.

With the scores level, the match livened up again, Baltimore seeking to play down their left
through Pulliam and Khalid Balogun, while United looked to play on the break through Garuba
and Solomon. Chris Little saw his effort from the edge of the box blocked by a wall of
Baltimore defenders, and at the other end it seemed only a matter of time before the hosts hit
back on another deep cross from Pulliam or Bell. Chances came for both sides as the first half
wore on, with Solomon forcing a fantastic stretching save out of Beyers on a curling effort in the
40th. The first stanza would end as it began with the sides level but threatening in the attacking
third.

The second half saw flurries of substitutions as both sides came off of busy weeks, but the level
of play did not suffer. Baltimore midfielder Malcolm Harris would see yellow only minutes after
entering the match for a tactical foul on Solomon. The chances kept coming, with substitute
Daniel Baxter forcing a great save out of Shutler from close range. The pace of the United
counters seemed to slow as the game wore on, the effects of playing twice in three days beginning to show in the players’ legs. The home side continued to be dangerous down the left, but the breakthrough would come from the much quieter right side just after the hour.

Balogun, who would be nominated by Baltimore boss Lawrence Sancomb as the Man of the
Match for his impressive performance, picked up the ball inside United’s box after a quick break
from midfield. With one quick touch he created space to his left, and curled a wonderful effort
past the outstretched arms of Shutler, who really could have done no more to stop Balogun’s
strike. Baltimore continued to press, with several chances coming inside the away penalty area
over the next few minutes including an effort off the post and back into the grateful arms of the
United goalkeeper. The visitors would suffer another setback minutes later, when substitute
Dorian Dixon would be shown a straight red card for a reckless tackle far away from his own
goal as the visitors would have to play over 20 minutes down a man.

United’s Alex Shahmirzadi would enter the referee’s book a few minutes later for persistent
infringement. The sending off clearly changed the game, as the away side no longer looked
threatening in the attacking third when they managed to get there, while Baltimore clearly
smelled blood and sought to put the game to bed.

United’s threat came on a smattering of set pieces in the final ten minutes, with some shaky
defending by the hosts almost granting the visitors a last-gasp equalizer. The final whistle
brought an end to hopes of returning across the Potomac with any points from the match, as the
home side would move to second in the Mid-Atlantic Conference and leapfrog United.

Sancomb spoke highly of the style played by the away side.

“We changed our system in the second half to deal with the threat on the counter and dropped
another guy into midfield. It was a good game, everyone gave their all.”

United Assistant Coach Chris Jennings spoke of a moment of “individual brilliance to win the
game” and that before that the sides had played each other quite evenly in a well-fought contest.

The sides play the return leg of the home-and-home season series in Leesburg on Thursday, with
the postseason fate of both teams riding heavily on the result of that match. Before that
Baltimore will visit conference leaders Virginia Beach on Sunday.

Photo Credit: Connor Lee/Northern Virginia United FC

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