By Matthew DeWitt/NPSL.com
It proved to be a nervy finish, but it was just enough for the visitors.
Tulsa Athletic managed to hang on to the win after nearly squandering a four-goal lead. Aboubakr Diallo and Luis Flores each scored once and offered an assist, as Tulsa managed to eke out the win, 4-3, to earn a spot in the Midwest Region Final on Saturday.
The visitors put on a clinic early. Flores was first on the scoresheet for Tulsa with his sixth goal in his last four games. From just on the top of the penalty area in the 11th minute, the midfielder rattled home a free kick off the far post.
After Aaron Ugbah’s strike in the 38th minute sent the visitors into the locker room with what seemed-to-be a comfortable lead at 2-0, Tulsa pushed the margin to four with goals from Diallo and Riolan Mello.
“When we went four-nil up, I’ll be honest and say I was a little surprised,” head coach Jason Rogers said. “We have enough quality in our group that if we have enough chances, we find a way to score. But we should have known, that group [Des Moines] has quality.”
With the game seemingly in hand, the visitors took their foot off the gas and allowed Des Moines to blast three unanswered goals in a matter of minutes. Starting in the 70th minute, the hosts began breaking down the backline and finding gaps. A winding and dizzying run through the middle allowed Lucas Malaguez to open the scoring for the hosts.
Lincoln Borges halved the deficit for the hosts in the 75th minute with a long-range effort, and Quentin Arnoud put Des Moines in striking distance with a header direct off a corner one minute later. While the defender gave the hosts confidence to push numbers forward, Tulsa managed to see out the win.
“That last 15 minutes felt more like an hour,” Rogers said. “Some of that had nothing to do with soccer. It had to do with mental toughness and of course physical toughness – the part of the game that’s difficult. That’s what we had to do at a high level that last 15 minutes.”
Tulsa now has a quick turnaround to calm down and get their legs underneath them for Saturday’s matchup against Steel City FC in the Midwest Region Final. Steel City pushed through a dramatic, seven-round shootout against Med City FC to earn its berth in the final.
Photo Credit: Doug Wells