By J.P. Terrasi/NPSL.com
Friday night was the first time that Naples United FC got to play a region semifinal at their home field at Paradise Coast Sports Complex in Naples, Florida. Their fans can only hope it won’t be the last, as Naples United FC fell to a strong Apotheos FC team by the score of 1-0.
Naples United FC, spurred on by their stellar crowd, started the game on the front foot with the majority of possession. That possession led to two great attempts by their high-powered offense early in the game. Apotheos though, playing on the counter, did have an opportunity of their own within the first 10 minutes as well.
Apotheos FC was playing well, but a surprise early yellow card in the 17th minute could have derailed that play. Apotheos rallied immediately afterward by putting not one, but two great attempts at the Naples United FC goal. If it were not for Naples United FC goalkeeper Maykell Ortega, the score would have changed much earlier than it did.
It wasn’t until the 24th minute, on yet another Apotheos FC counterattack, that the tally finally moved off the 0-0 scoreline as Junior Sandoval got tripped in the Naples United FC box where a penalty kick was awarded to him. Sandoval calmly stepped up to the spot and slid the ball past the Naples United FC goalkeeper.
With the score now 1-0 in favor of the visitors from Georgia, the game settled down with some great end-to-end play. And although they were playing with a man down, Naples United FC’s stellar defense rose to the occasion. And it was in the 33rd minute that Naples United FC’s talisman and leading scorer Pablo Marisi had a diving header that just barely sailed over the Apotheos FC goal in a shot that could have tied the game. On the other end, Sandoval immediately led another attack, and his hard shot curved just outside of the left goalpost.
Right before the first half ended, Naples United FC standout Tariq Bakkali had a near miss on the Apotheos goal that once again could have tied the game. The halftime break came with Apotheos FC still leading 1-0.
In the 48th minute, an extremely rare error by the Naples United FC goalkeeper almost led to another goal for Apotheos FC. Ortega tried to kick a backpass out of the zone when it hit an Apotheos player squarely and bounced right back toward the Naples United FC goal. Ortega was lucky enough that it came right back at him, and he easily caught it.
Play continued back and forth throughout the middle part of the second half with neither team getting any good looks at the goal. One Naples United FC corner kick was headed a few feet over the bar by Bakkali, giving the Apotheos FC faithful a good scare. The 91st minute had a moment that left the Naples United FC fans standing and cheering.
After a foul was called about 10 yards outside the Apotheos FC box, Marisi stepped up to take that free kick in the 91st minute of the game. His trademark strike was knuckling when the Apotheos FC goalkeeper dove to his right, barely blocking the shot but not out of the way of danger. Bakkali was there to field the ball, but his kick just sailed once again over the Apotheos FC goal.
Marisi got another crack at his opponents just four minutes later. Yet another free kick was given, but this time a little further outside the box. He once again struck the ball hard, and that trademark swerve was just a little too much as the ball sailed just outside the right goalpost. Everyone in the stands and on the Apotheos FC sidelines gasped as the Apotheos goalkeeper would not have gotten to that one if it were on target.
The referee sounded the final whistle a few minutes later, and the game ended with Apotheos FC defeating Naples United FC by a scoreline of 1-0.
Apotheos FC will now move on to tomorrow’s NPSL South Region Final against Southern States SC, who bested Brownsville NPSL in the first match of the night. Now the NPSL South Region Final is set, and the two teams will play Saturday night at the Community School of Naples in Naples, Florida at 7:00 pm. The winner of that match will advance to the NPSL National Semifinals.
Photo Credit: J.P. Terrasi/NPSL.com