By Tyler Lewin
The Annapolis Blues dominated Grove United in the opening round of the NPSL 2023 playoffs, winning 4-1 and advancing to the Mid-Atlantic Conference Final.
The Blues wasted no time, opening the scoring in the 10th minute from a corner kick. The ball was swung in from the right side of the pitch by Matias de Jesus. Taking flight through the air, the corner kick was met by the head of Justin Harris. He would find the lower bottom corner of the far post, putting the Blues up 1-0.
In the 22nd minute, Blues’ leading goal scorer Jacob Murrell doubled the lead. Gordon Bernlohr received a chipped pass into his feet. After taking a loose touch, the ball bounced off a Grove defender and back to the feet of Bernlohr. His next touch took the ball past the defender. He then slotted a simple pass across the face of the goal to Murrell at the top of the six-yard box. Murrell was then able to roll the ball into the back of the net.
The Blues refused to be slowed down, scoring again in the 36th minute via de Jesus. The prior assist man turned goal scorer after Murrell’s initial shot was saved. Off the back of a one-on-one opportunity, Murrell’s shot was saved by the onrushing Reds goalkeeper. The rebound fell to the feet of de Jesus, leading to a simple tap in from 12 yards out.
The Reds managed to pull one back in the 37th minute. A through ball was slipped into the feet of a Reds attacker as he took on three Blues defenders. Griffin Hemmindinger rushed out of his goal to challenge the striker. A pass was made to Arfenne Senior, leading to an unchallenged goal from eight yards out.
The Blues would score their final goal of the match in the 59th minute. The fourth goal would see a similar connection to the second with the roles reversed. It would be Bernlohr who would score the goal this time, and the assist went to Murrell. Off the back of a throw-in from the near side of the field, Murrell drew space from his defender and lifted the ball over the head of the Reds goalkeeper. His chipped ball found the head of Bernlohr, and he scored from four yards out. The remainder of the second half remained a dominant one for the Blues. However, neither side was able to generate any significant opportunities.
Annapolis will play next on Saturday, July 15 at 7:00 pm against the Alexandria Reds at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis. This will be a rematch of the teams’ final regular season game that took place on Sunday, July 9th that resulted in the Blues’ only loss of the season.
Photo Credit: Fincham Photography