By 3S Media
Southern States SC from Oak Grove, Mississippi went into their final regular season game against conference leaders Jacksonville Armada FC U23 needing a win and hoping Pensacola FC could not beat Port City FC in Gulfport, Mississippi on the same night.
The Stars obliged, sinking the Armada with three unanswered goals. Unfortunately for the Stars, Port City were unable to pull off the surprise, losing at home to Pensacola 3-2.
The win for Pensacola keeps them in second place in the conference standings, and with it they take home field advantage for the playoffs. The Stars finished a close third and will travel to Pensacola on Wednesday, July 14th.
As for the game, the Stars and Jacksonville played a tight opening half with the home team taking the higher share of possession but the Armada looking threatening on swift counterattacking. Most of the Stars’ threats came from dead balls and long-range efforts.
However, in the 38th minute the game burst open when Armada goalkeeper Padraic Gilley was late going down to the feet of Tom Shepherd as he chased the ball deep into the penalty area. The referee had no hesitation in awarding the penalty kick and then red carded Gilley for the foul of denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity.
The visitors made a substitution bringing on backup keeper Brandon Stam. The first action for Stam was to pick the ball out of the back of the net as Danny Reynolds slammed home a penalty kick to put the Stars on top 1-0 at the half.
Meanwhile down in Gulfport, an hour’s drive south, Pensacola FC were being held 1-1 by Port City FC, a result that would give the Stars home-field advantage if it remained that way through the full ninety minutes.
The Stars, with the man advantage over the 10-men Armada, seized the opportunity to impress with their close passing and also an expansive change of direction from time to time. The Armada worked hard to get themselves back into the game but seemed caught between an all-out assault or a more cautious approach to finding an equalizer.
Ten minutes into the half Danny Reynolds left the field for some treatment to a heavy knock. On his return a few minutes later, with his first touch back on the field, he smashed another unstoppable shot past Stam as it rose high into the net from 18 yards out. It was another clinical strike from the left-footed ace.
The Stars scored a third goal in the 79th minute with a goal that typified their whole performance this evening. Liam Bennett shook off an Armada defender to find Julian Avila, who slipped in Shepherd on the top of the penalty box and the striker coolly bent the ball around Stam into the corner of the net to end the scoring and take revenge for the Stars’ 3-0 loss at Jacksonville earlier in the season.
However, the news from Gulfport was not what the Stars (9-4-1) wanted to hear and they will travel to Pensacola FC (9-3-2) in the Gulf Coast Conference playoffs semifinal.
Stars head coach Carl Reynolds was happy and sounding confident about his team’s chances for the playoffs.
“We saved our best sixty minutes of football for the last game of the season, and we did it when we really needed to. We showed quality but make no mistake about it, they (the Armada) have been the most consistent team all season but tonight we were the best team. We deserved the result.”
His focus now turns to the upcoming match against Pensacola.
“Now it’s all about the playoffs. We’ll watch their game against Port City tonight. We’ll go over the two games we previously played against them, and we’ll be ready to go there and get the result we need.”
Danny Reynolds was willing to discuss his two goals.
“The two strikes were good, especially the one from the open field. Penalty kicks are nerve-racking. It was a good team result, we owed them one and now we’re just moving onto the conference playoffs ready to pick up some good results.”
Jacksonville Armada U23 head coach Tommy Krizanovic was philosophical in defeat, refusing to use the red card as an excuse.
“Sometimes it’s tough for them (the referees) as well. There’s the environment, it was a fast-paced game. Southern States Stars are a fantastic group and it’s such a competitive environment. Sometimes you miss a couple of calls, so we just move on and make progress. We’re confident going into the playoffs. We’ll see on Wednesday, maybe some fresh legs, get the boys recovered. Playoffs are playoffs. Anything can happen. We’re hoping to get the result on Wednesday.”
Photo Credit: 3S Media