By Georgia Storm
The Georgia Storm traveled to 865 Alliance in Knoxville, TN on Saturday, June 24th to play a crucial match with huge playoff implications. Going into the weekend’s matches, 865 Alliance sat in the final playoff spot while the Storm were bottom of the table. The Storm started their playoff push last weekend with a huge 3-2 victory over Southeast Conference leaders Apotheos FC.
It was an eventful week for 865 Alliance as they installed a new head coach in Laban Defriese prior to the match. He changed the setup of his team, and they played a 4-4-2 from the start. Storm head coach Josh Bivens has been changing their system from time to time between a 3-5-2 and a 4-3-3.
865 Alliance had a strong crowd behind their team. They started very quickly, jumping on the Storm in the opening ten minutes and were very unlucky not to get the opening goal. With a bit of shaky buildup play from the Storm, 865 Alliance pounced on a number of poor passes. They created three or four quality counterattacks, but they didn’t take the lead.
In the opening barrage, 865 Alliance’s Andy Sullin had a shot saved by the Storm’s Robert Bailey. On an early corner kick, 865 Alliance had two free players at the far post, but the header was just over the bar. The Storm started to play into the match after the first 15 minutes with several good balls in behind for Alex Guzman.
In the 20th minute, the Storm’s Mauro Gutierrez slipped a pass to Guzman between two 865 Alliance center backs, and he cut inside and fired wide. As the Knoxville heat began to beat off the turf at Hardin Valley Academy, both sides slowed down as the half progressed.
865 Alliance had a ball won off them by the Storm’s Renan Diniz. He played a terrific pass behind the defense to Guzman who adeptly opened his hips and pushed the ball into the far corner to put the Storm up 1-0. Anxious to get right back in the match, 865 Alliance continued to push forward ending the half with a free shot from the top of the box that was missed wide right.
The Storm found themselves in a familiar place with the lead at halftime, but were itching for a different outcome. The Storm have dropped eight points from a leading position this season and were pushing hard for a different result.
The second half started quickly for 865 Alliance who sought the equalizer. But as the game progressed, the Storm started to gain their share of the match. In the 60th minute, the Storm’s Alek Bravo pushed forward into the midfield where he had his pocket picked, leading to a 1v1 for 865 Alliance’s Andy Sullin. Bailey came up with a huge save, keeping it out with his left leg.
As 865 Alliance pushed even more players forward, it provided the Storm with a great deal of space to counter attack. This led to great chances from Greg Stratton and Ryan Antoine.
As the Storm’s legs tired, more fouls were committed, but 865 Alliance didn’t end up punishing the Storm for these chances. Several last-ditch tackles and challenges from Stratton, Bravo, Jay White, and Julio Neto saw the Storm secure all three points. This was also the first clean sheet of the season for Bailey. The Storm’s Kevin Pierre put in another fantastic performance in the heart of their midfield.
The Storm will host Charlottetowne Hops in what could likely be the battle for fourth place and the final playoff spot for the Southeastern Conference. 865 Alliance will travel to conference leaders Apotheos FC as they try and push for that fourth playoff spot as well.
Photo Credit: Matthew Dingle