By Pensacola FC
Pensacola FC rallied from 2 goals down at the half to take all three points with a three-goal second half for a 3-2 victory over Florida Roots.
Pensacola FC entered Wednesday’s match looking for their first win of the 2002 NPSL campaign. They tied their opener at Tallahassee, who rallied from a goal down to equalize as both teams split the points in a key 850 Cup matchup.
Coming off a 4-1 loss vs. Jacksonville Armada FC U-23 in their last encounter, Florida Roots were hoping to reverse that result and gain all three points against the Pelicans. They didn’t disappoint, as they brought the energy to the game from the first whistle.
Roots took it to Pensacola and was in full control of possession in the first 15 minutes of the game. They were almost rewarded with the first goal of the game when they caught the Pensacola backline napping. A ball over the top made it into the space behind Pensacola right back Carson Hickok, and Richard Bushmeister fired a volley that looked to be going in but was parried away by an onrushing Mark McMillan in the Pensacola goal.
That attack sparked the confidence in the Roots midfielders as Gabriel Villafane Vidal was having a time against the Pensacola FC midfield trio of Azahrias Ali, Michael Lightbourne, and James Morrissey. Vidal and company were inching closer to that opener, as Pensacola just could not get a stronghold on the game.
Pensacola FC’s Lorenzo Periera Weber was caught in possession, and while recovering, committed a foul 25 yards outside the Pensacola goal. A free kick was awarded to the Roots in the 20th minute, and McMillan spilled the ensuing free kick to an onrushing Ty Mcketty who was left with an easy tap-in to put the Roots up 1-0.
As the half looked to be coming to a close, Roots found the net again in the 44th minute. Jake Mckettrick was left unmarked in Pensacola’s 18-yard box with time and space for an easy tap-in with an assist from Gabino Morin. Roots ended the first half up 2-0 and were cruising at this point, looking for their first-ever win over the Pelicans.
Whatever was said in the Pensacola locker room at the half certainly changed the outcome of the game. The Pelicans looked like a team on a mission at the start of the second half. They took control from the first pass, and their game energy that was non-existent in the first half suddenly came alive. They were moving the ball and causing lots of problems for the Roots. The visitors struggled to deal with the pace of the Pensacola front trio of Jayce Dotson, Prince Owusu, and Keegan Lynch.
Pensacola was in search of that first goal as Owusu was getting lots of time and space as he ran at the Roots backline at any opportunity he got. Pensacola head coach Dean Logan must have instructed his players to tire out the Roots backline for what was to come later on, as subs were seen warming up and getting ready to come into action.
Bernardo Torres came on for Azahrias Ali who wasn’t having the kind of display that he showed in the opening encounter against Tallahassee. Torres came on like he had a point to prove and was an immediate impact for Pensacola. After some wonderful spell of possession from the home side, they were awarded a penalty in the 63rd minute after Dotson was taken down by a clumsy challenge inside the box.
This was Pensacola’s second penalty kick in two matches. Up stepped Lightbourne who was looking to cut the deficit in half. His initial kick was saved by Roots goalkeeper Joshua Burton. However, the kick had to be retaken as Burton was adjudged to have stepped off his line too early. Lightbourne made no mess of the second attempt as he slotted the ball into the net for a 2-1 scoreline.
Logan introduced Kendrick Hernandez and Tyriq Gordon to the Pensacola FC attack, and they brought the energy that the Pelicans were missing in the first half. Hernandez, the youngest player on Pensacola’s roster, started creating chance after chance as he was too much for a tiring Roots backline.
Owusu headed a ball onto the crossbar from a Hernandez cross in the 77th minute that would have tied the game for the Pelicans. The rebound was then saved by Burton who was determined to preserve the win for the Roots. A minute later Torres had another chance to level the scores but hit wide from an acute angle.
As time seemed to be running out on Pensacola, Torres struck in the 88th minute after he received a flick on header from Tyriq Gordon. With the keeper and a retreating defender in his wake, he managed to slot the ball past Burton to level the score and brought the home crowd to their feet.
In the 92nd minute Hernandez received a lofted pass from Issac Machado and, with just the keeper to beat, fired a thunderous shot past the Roots goalkeeper who did everything possible to make a save. The shot had too much pace on it, and Hernandez and his teammates celebrated what would be the game-winning goal. This secured all three points for Pensacola.
Logan was delighted with his team’s second-half performance.
“The guys came out a different team in the second half,” Logan said. “We had to show maturity for the game and raise our energy if we were to get a result. Credit to the guys who scored for us tonight, but we had a Man of the Match performance from Retsin Kabambala who was magnificent for us at center back tonight.”
Pensacola will face Jacksonville Armada FC U-23 in Jacksonville on Saturday, May 21. That matchup will be heavily contested as Pensacola will be looking for their first road win of the season.
Photo Credit: Steven MacNaugthon