By Connor Lee/Northern Virginia United FC
In a typically fiery affair between Beltway rivals, Northern Virginia United dropped their first NPSL home game in 718 days 2-1 to FC Baltimore Christos. The two clubs played for the second time in four days, with Mid-Atlantic Conference leaders Baltimore emerging victorious on both occasions. The loss for United keeps them second in the conference, with the Sky Blues wasting an opportunity to overtake their Beltway rivals in front of their first home crowd for nearly two years.
The game started quickly, with hosts United keeping much of the ball and looking to probe a strong Baltimore defense. The visitors looked dangerous on the counter, particularly down their right hand side through the pacy Demitrius Shepard-Lewis. The game soon became a midfield battle punctuated by bursts forward from both sides, with United content to sit deeper and play on the counter after all their early pressure, and Baltimore now the side looking to create more opportunities. United were dealt an injury blow midway through the first half, with left back Will Noecker replaced by Jordan McMillen.
The visitors looked to create from deep, with midfielders Peter Mangione and Alejandro Abelaez seeing much of the ball as the first half wore on. Abelaez would soon set his stamp on the match, as the away side were awarded a free kick on the edge of the United box in the 36th minute. Mangione ran over the ball, Arbelaez curled a sweet shot over the wall, and United goalkeeper Chandler Gaunce was left picking the ball out of his own net as FC Baltimore took a 1-0 lead.
Minutes later, the lead could have been doubled. A tangle of legs in the United box led to a Baltimore penalty, which Mangione stepped up to take. However, he would be denied by Gaunce as the United goalkeeper got down smartly to his right to keep the hosts in the game.
The second half started much slower than the first, with both teams making several substitutions early in the half. United added Alex Robles to midfield to bring an extra attacking threat, while Baltimore looked to solidify their hold on the game and find a second goal. In the 78th minute, they did just that. Finding space in wide areas as they had all game, a ball crossed from the visitors’ left side found its way through to substitute Matthew Brummet, who punished some lax defending in the box to put the conference leaders 2-0 away at their closest rivals.
Chances in the second half came few and far between, and the half was punctuated more by tough challenges and yellow card cautions than by threats in front of goal. After the 77th minute, United’s introduction of Alex Nohra up front gave the hosts a physical threat they had been lacking up to that point. Nohra was able to compete for 50-50s with Baltimore’s athletic center backs, and on one occasion was unlucky to hit the post after evading his defender, to the relief of substitute goalkeeper Jake Boyle. Finally, in the 89th minute, United sub Abel Lewis whipped in a dangerous cross from the right that was turned into his own net by Baltimore defender Kyle Saunderson as he tried to get in a block.
It was too little too late for United though, who dropped to 2-2-0 (6 points) on the year as they remain second in the Mid-Atlantic Conference. Baltimore retained the top spot, a perfect twelve points from four games. FC Baltimore Christos look to extend their conference lead at home against Philadelphia Lone Star FC on Wednesday, while Northern Virginia United look to recover from two defeats on the bounce at home versus FC Frederick.
Photo Credit: Susanna Jolly Photography