By J’Mar Smith/FC Baltimore Christos
FC Baltimore Christos found themselves back in the region final for a second consecutive year where they faced FC Motown with a spot in the national semifinals on the line. This was the grudge match that NPSL fans have been waiting for. In the first matchup between the teams in 2018, Motown got the better of Baltimore 3-0. FCBC responded the next year taking down Motown 1-0.
As the skies gave way to some sun, they also allowed for a humid evening game. Once the whistle blew the ball was in play and the biggest game of the season was on the line for FCBC. Within the first five minutes the score went towards Baltimore’s favor as midfielder Ben Stitz made a great run at the goal that made it to the corner of the goal for a score. After those first five minutes things became stagnant for both sides as they looked to outduel each other.
Goalkeeper Mike Zierhoffer made an early claim for Man of the Match as he made two incredible saves to keep the score at 1-0. As time went on, Motown showed that they have just as much offensive skill as their counterparts. They made run after run in an attempt to balance out the momentum of this game but each time were thwarted by the Christos defense and Zierhoffer’s eye for the ball. There were plenty of chances where they could have actually scored and things were just not in Motown’s favor. Each team were blown for numerous whistles ranging from missed sliding tackles to arrant pushes in the back. At least one player from each team received a yellow card.
Zierhoffer made four saves in the first half that allowed for FCBC to have a lead going into the half. The second half is where all the real fun began. With fans now heavily invested in their respective teams, the amount of shouting gave an adrenaline rush to the visiting team who would not give up and were determined to get this game back in their hands. After Baltimore made back-to-back attempts to take a 2-0 lead and were denied by Motown, they managed a strong counterattack that led to a tying goal in the 69th minute of play.
Not even a full five minutes later FCBC snagged the lead back as defender Jordan Travers made his presence known. In his very first goal of the season, Travers converted from Malcolm Harris’ pinpoint cross from a corner kick that put the score at 2-1. Motown nearly returned fire with a goal of their own before they were deemed offsides by the officials.
In the 87th minute of play Motown once again tied the game, making overtime a possible option. Motown looked for every chance to try and take the lead before the ball bounced in Baltimore’s favor and a lob pass over the top for David Harris and that was all the space he needed as he sped past a Motown defender and hit the ball clean into the back of the net. This was the 90th minute of play. With just seconds left in the game, Motown made one last push and managed to get into the last line of defense and take a shot that rolled just past the outstretched hands of Zierhoffer and it bounced into the goal.
With that goal, the Region Final went into overtime and that was just the start of a wild game in Essex, MD. In the overtime period the exhaustion was fairly noticeable as players had hands on their hips and mouths wide open. No goal was achieved in the overtime period but numerous players went down with various injuries and had to either take a breather or be replaced by a substitute. With the score still knotted at 3-3 after 30 extra minutes, they had to resort to the last choice for deciding a winner, penalty kicks.
This was new territory for Baltimore as this was the first time all year that the team had to go into penalty kicks. As players lined up at midfield to watch their respective teammates kick for a score, fans were holding their breath as this decided who would walk away as champion. Both FCBC and FCM made their first two PK’s before FCBC missed on their third attempt. Motown walked up next and took the lead 3-2 as they converted on their third straight goal. Baltimore responded with a goal to keep their season alive.
Motown would miss on their next kick leaving the score tied back at 3-3, the same score as what was sitting on the scoreboard before the end of OT. This led to sudden death where the next goal wins, FCBC converted on their kick and that left everything up to Motown. In a kick that determined if the game continued or ended, Motown was denied on a save from none other than Zierhoffer, who parried the ball wide to send Baltimore through.
Fans went wild after the save as they now realized their team is now the East Region champions. Players jumped and shouted with signs of relief and excitement. With this victory, Baltimore moves on to the national semifinals where they will face Tulsa Athletic on Saturday, July 31st for a chance to play for the national championship.
Photo Credit: FC Baltimore Christos