By Charlottetowne Hops FC
Charlottetowne Hops FC and Appalachian FC faced off at the CSA OrthoCarolina Sportsplex in Pineville, NC on Sunday night. The match turned out to be one of the most memorable of the season in the NPSL’s Southeastern Conference. The clubs were coming off a meeting last week in Boone, NC, where Charlottetowne scored a stoppage-time winner to snatch all three points from the home side. The reverse fixture would prove to be no less riveting, although not always for the play on the pitch.
Unlike last week, the Hops started off on the front foot, pressing and creating chance after chance before finally breaking through in the 20th minute. A rocket of a goal from midfielder Mika Habel, who also scored the winner in the previous match, granted him the distinction of scoring two goals in a row against the same club in successive weeks. A cross from winger David Imbert created the chance and a clever dummy from Gabriel Lopes allowed Habel to slide in and fire it past AFC goalkeeper Chase Jansen to give the Hops the 1-0 lead.
They would double the lead 20 minutes later on a deflected corner that Habel almost got on the end off and that ended up at the feet of Lopes who knocked it past Jansen to give the Hops that two-goal cushion, which they would take into halftime.
The second half began with a flurry of attacking chances from the visitors, but Charlottetowne stood firm and didn’t allow Appalachian FC any true goal-scoring opportunities. And then it seemed like the Hops had the game well in hand when Appalachian FC defender William Smith knocked a Tyler Trimnal cross into his own net to run Charlottetowne’s lead to 3-0 in the 58th minute.
But two minutes later Appalachian FC wingback Charley Leech volleyed in a cross past Hops goalkeeper Carter Nunnery to add some life back into his club and their bevy of supporters who made the trip down from Boone. The lead still felt fairly safe, but the goal signaled that Appalachian was not going to go quietly into the warm Pineville night.
Indeed, just 15 minutes later, Appalachian FC attacker Elie Bokota scored off a pass from striker Michael Eberle who had cleverly made space behind Hops defender Julian Sagnol. He turned him around before finding a wide-open Bokota who slotted it home to run the score to 3-2 with just a quarter of an hour to play and really raising the belief level for their fans and the team.
The Hops still had the lead and would hold onto it until the 89th minute when Appalachian FC substitute London Williams scored off yet another poorly defended set piece from Charlottetowne, knocking a bouncing, ricocheting ball past Nunnery to equalize at the near-death of the match.
By this point, things were starting to get quite chippy in this budding rivalry as the players were sliding into heavy tackles and jawing, behavior that was starting to feed into the crowd a little bit. After Williams’ goal, the referees added seven minutes of stoppage time, and they would prove to be seven of the most bizarre minutes of all time.
It escalated to a crescendo when Jansen smashed into one of his defenders at the top of the 18-yard box as he went to attack a ball played into Hops substitute Justin Stone. The collision left Stone standing over the ball with nothing between him and the goal. He walked the ball in and then smashed it over the line in the 94th minute, giving the Hops a 4-3 lead with just minutes left to play.
Charlottetowne did pick up all three points on the night, and while the final score wasn’t good enough to catapult them past Appalachian FC in the Southeastern Conference standings, it does extend the Hops’ winning streak to two games as they head into the final two matches of the season. The first is away at Georgia Storm on July 1, and the second is home for the final match of the season against conference-leading Apotheos FC on July 7. The Hops currently sit in the conference’s final playoff spot, and Sunday’s three points could be important in keeping them there when the regular season ends in a few weeks.
Photo Credit: CJ Hellner