By Raymond Bureau/NPSL.com
A header from Aboubakr Diallo in the 69th minute was the game’s first goal, and a rebound shot from the left side from Titus Grant that followed less than a minute later added an insurance goal as the Tulsa Athletic defeated the previously unbeaten Jacksonville Armada FC U-23 2-0 in the NPSL South Region Final in front of more than 1,000 fans Saturday night in Jacksonville.
Tulsa handed Jacksonville its only loss of the season and advanced to the national semifinals on July 30.
A Tulsa attack in the 69th minute saw the ball volleyed into the air twice right in front of the goal, and Diallo out-leaped Armada goalkeeper Domonic Dominquez and headed the ball into the top of the net, putting Athletic on the board. Less than two minutes later, Grant connected from the left side of the penalty box to give Tulsa an insurance goal they ended up not needing.
The Armada played without their leading scorer, Alexandros Ierides, who earned a red card in last week’s South Region semifinal match.
Both defenses played very tough in a scoreless first half. Tulsa thwarted four Armada attacks within the first six minutes. Tulsa’s defense also kept Jacksonville from getting inside the penalty area, forcing the Armada attackers to shoot all eight times from well outside the box. Jacksonville returned the favor, forcing Athletic forwards to miss their targets on several pass attempts early and keeping Tulsa from getting too many opportunities throughout the first half.
The first shot on goal came from Tulsa early in the 14th minute, but Domniquez was right in front of the net to make the stop. Jacksonville’s Jed Bowman missed just wide of the left post at the other end of the field less than a minute later.
Tulsa forward Rio Mello missed over the top in the 22nd minute, and Reed Berry then fired from approximately 25 yards out. His shot headed for the top of the goal, but Dominguez leaped and saved the shot with a one-handed punch over the crossbar.
Jacksonville’s best chance of the first half came in the 29th minute. Ethan Dudley had a free kick and drove the ball toward the top right corner. However, Tulsa goalkeeper Bryson Reed made a diving catch to keep the score 0-0.
In the 40th minute, Jacksonville’s Marc Berkelund and Tulsa’s Berry traded shots that each goalkeeper saved.
Each team made one last push in the final moments before halftime. Jacksonville fired two shots in rapid succession in one minute of stoppage time, but Grant and Francisco Lopez each got in front of the ball to stop those two shots.
The two teams went into the intermission scoreless.
Berry missed wide left with Tulsa’s first shot less than two minutes out of halftime, and Jacksonville had several potential opportunities slip away via the offsides call for the first 13 minutes of the second half.
The Armada’s Mason Tunbridge took a 38-yard free kick from the right sideline and hit Cad Chaves right in front of the goal in the 58th minute, but Chaves’s header was saved by Reed. Two minutes later, Giancarlo Vaccaro missed wide right from the right side.
Tulsa’s Romulo Bosquiero had a tremendous opportunity upon receiving a corner kick pass in the 62nd minute, but he hit the wrong side of the left post. A Tulsa header attempt less than a minute later sailed over the crossbar.
Tunbridge fired off a slap shot from 30 yards out, but Reed made his second diving save of the night, reaching high and far to his left to make the catch. Jacksonville’s Keegan Ancelin hit the left post with 10 minutes remaining. Reed thwarted another high shot in the 85th minute with a punch save over the crossbar.
The final eight minutes, including four minutes of stoppage time, included pressure from the Armada front line, but it also included more Tulsa defense and two more saves from Reed. Grant and Lopez maintained their solid defensive play for Tulsa and kept Jacksonville from getting off shots inside the box.
Overall, the Armada took 19 shots with 8 of them on goal; Tulsa shot 12 times and were on goal with 5 of them. Dominguez had 5 saves for Jacksonville, and Reed saved 8 for the Athletic.
Athletic head coach Levi Coleman said his team came out of a scoreless first half more prepared to take on the tough Armada defense.
“They executed the game plan very well and made some adjustments to what Jacksonville brought,” Coleman said. “The boys had patience today; we tend to force some things when we don’t find the goal early….We got our goals, and we were able to defend the game out, so there is a lot to be proud of out there tonight.”
After the ceremonial water cooler drenching, Coleman praised his formidable opponent.
“This is the toughest team we’ve played; they’re a well-coached team with some incredible individual players and a well-organized group,” Coleman added. “They had the ball a lot and really challenged us, so it makes it that much more rewarding to beat such a quality team.”
Jacksonville head coach Tommy Krizanovic congratulated the Athletic, saying Tulsa played a fantastic game.
“They are a very hard group to play against, and we wish them nothing but good luck moving forward,” Krizanovic said. “As for my boys, nothing else but to be proud of them, and they can walk off with their heads held high.”
Tulsa will now host one of the NPSL National Semifinals on Saturday, July 30.
Photo Credit: Rick Wilson/NPSL.com