By John Tranchina/NPSL.com
Joe Holland hasn’t been with FC Motown for too long, but it’s clear that he developed strong chemistry with his new team quickly and that has paid off in the NPSL playoffs.
After Coby Handy scored in the 85th minute to pull Motown to a 1-1 tie with the Tulsa Athletic Saturday night, Holland struck for the game-winner just four minutes later to give FC Motown a dramatic 2-1 victory on the road at the Union Soccer Complex in Broken Arrow, OK in the NPSL semifinals.
Not only will FC Motown advance to the NPSL National Championship next Saturday, Aug. 6, they will host it, after Crossfire Redmond defeated the Muskegon Risers 3-0 in the other national semifinal.
“I’m buzzing right now, honestly,” said Motown head coach Gideon Baah. “It was a tough game. We expected it, we’re on the road playing against this crowd, we expected something like this. What makes us successful today is we prepared well for the atmosphere.”
With Tulsa up 1-0 on a goal by Reed Berry in the 47th minute, Motown began to take over the momentum and applied significant pressure over the last 20-25 minutes. Athletic goalkeeper Bryson Reed made several outstanding saves, particularly his diving stop on Handy’s 10-yard shot in the 71st minute, to keep Motown at bay temporarily.
“I think their goal made us play better, to be honest,” Holland said. “They were a little bit cagey on the ball, they’re a very good team, and we were a bit nervous, but when they scored, we thought we had nothing to lose, so we started to play much better. And that’s what led to the goals.”
Motown kept pressing and finally broke through when Handy notched his fourth goal of the season in the 85th minute, corralling a clear out of the box and then booming a shot from the left side, 20 yards out, that beat Reed just inside the right goal post. Handy had entered the match as a substitute in the 57th minute.
“If you have this depth in the bench, you can turn things around and that’s what we did,” Baah said. “We have won games from the bench throughout the whole season, I wasn’t surprised. I know the guys on the bench are sitting there, they’re watching the game, and they always have to come in to change the game, and that’s what he did.”
Then Holland connected for the game-winner, receiving a pass from Franco Catania and unleashing a shot from 10 yards out on the left wing that found its way in.
“He dived in, he thought I was going to hit it,” Holland said of the play. “So, I just thought I’d take it to my left, but it was just one of those moments, the ball’s popped up in the air, everyone’s kind of spinning, it was a crazy moment.”
It was just Holland’s sixth game since joining the club right before the playoffs started, and following the goal and assist he contributed in FC Motown’s 3-0 win over Appalachian FC last weekend in the East Region Final, it’s evident he’s adjusted well to his new surroundings.
“He’s been a great addition to the team,” Baah said. “You could see the improvement with our team, for sure. He’s the lynchpin now. He’s a fantastic player. Even though he didn’t come on the team from the start of the season, he’s bonded well and the chemistry’s there, and he was the missing piece from the start of the season.”
For Tulsa, which lost 5-2 in last year’s final to the Denton Diablos, the way they lost was devastating.
“It’s just tough, tough to really find the words, it happened really quick,” said Athletic head coach Levi Coleman, still in shock afterwards. “The way it even happened, we felt like we were kind of in control, and two goals after the 80th minute, we’re still digesting what happened.”
Tulsa was 9-1-2 during the regular season, then secured playoff victories over Demize NPSL, OKC 1889 FC, Laredo Heat SC, all at their usual home field at Hicks Park, before last weekend’s huge 2-0 triumph on the road over the top remaining seed, Jacksonville Armada FC U-23, in the South Region Final. The Athletic had won eight straight games overall.
Berry had an excellent game, generating several outstanding opportunities in addition to his goal that snapped a scoreless tie just after halftime. First, he had Tulsa’s best opportunity of the first half when he chased down a long clear by Romulo Bosquiero and dribbled into the box all alone before firing a shot from 15 yards that Motown goalkeeper David Greczek got a hand on, deflecting it flush off the crossbar.
Then on the goal, his eighth of the season, he received a nice pass from Joe Ruiz, cut into the middle of the box, and fired a 12-yard shot that beat Greczek high to the right side.
Berry nearly had another one about 12 minutes later, when he raced in alone, but Greczek made nice save on his 15-yard shot, and then again on the rebound attempt. He ended up coming out for a sub in the 79th minute.
“He was great, he ran himself into the ground, muscles are sore now for him, but he put in a lot of work for us out there,” Coleman said of Berry. “I think there were some chances left on the table for us. The game of soccer happened to us as well, we’ve had some breaks for us getting to this point, I think it just happened the other way this time.”
FC Motown, 7-1-2 in the regular season, winning postseason contests over the Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals, West Chester United SC, the New York Shockers, and then Appalachian FC for the East Region title. The team, which lost in the East Region Final last year, is based in Morristown, New Jersey, with ‘Motown’ being a local nickname for Morristown.
Now New Jersey will be the location of the NPSL National Championship next weekend.
“Awesome,” said Baah when he realized the final will be at home. “Everybody hates to be on the road. It was torturous coming here, two flights, layover flights, it is what it is. We have the opportunity to show the fans in Jersey what we’re made of. We have the chance to host, and what a feeling.”
Photo Credit: Lori Scholl/NPSL.com