By Michael Battista/NPSL.com
FC Motown are back in the East Region Final for a third straight season. A hectic match against Hartford City FC saw the defending NPSL National Champions win, 4-2, on Friday night at Montclair State University.
FC Motown head coach Gideon Baah has seen his club do a lot of things since taking over last year. While he doesn’t want to compare the two seasons, he does believe the team’s constant ethos has played a big role.
“We have standards and if you want to play (with) Motown, you have to meet those standards,” the former New York Red Bulls player said. “I think if we keep playing the way we play, we keep the discipline on with our training regimes, with the way we come together as a group, we’ll keep getting to finals.”
The regional hosts got into the groove early with a goal in the third minute. Former New York Red Bulls II player Joe Fala, playing at his old USL stomping grounds, passed a ball from the edge of the box to Chris Bermudez. The former Chattanooga FC standout shot high past a jumping Jamis Fite to make it 1-0.
Bermudez returned the favor in the 18th minute. After running into the box, the forward’s shot was blocked, but he was able to recover it. He quickly moved towards the edge line before crossing in and finding the jumping head of Fala who put it into the net to make it 2-0.
“It’s every manager’s dream to see that, like this kind of collaboration,” Baah said about the two forwards. “It’s good that they have their understanding, clear understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and they try to make it work.”
Hartford City came into the match on Friday missing six starters from its North Atlantic Conference Final win over Kingston Stockade FC last week. While the team started slowly out of the gate, things picked up after roughly 30 minutes. A 33rd minute pass by Jake Williams found Evan Southern cutting into the box. His one-on-one attempt was saved by Motown goalkeeper David Greczek who was recently named to the 2023 Keystone East Conference XI.
In the 35th minute Hartford broke through thanks to Williams. After Motown headed out a corner kick, a long pass into the box found Williams on the right side. Nearly face to face with Greczek, the keeper tried to dive on the ball, but the Hartford player moved towards the post before tapping the ball into the net. He celebrated with the nearby Agents of Hale, Hartford City’s supporters group, who had made the trip down from Connedicutt.
Hartford head coach Nick Balistierri said after the game his team faced a lot of challenges, both during the season and on Friday night. He wasn’t surprised to see the group fight back and adapt to the situation.
“Every season you’re presented with unique challenges relative to your team and we are able to kind of push through some of those early (in the) season and get some momentum going into the postseason,” Balistierri said. “I think when you are playing in a national league, you always want to play the best competition and I think you also want to play teams outside your conference, frankly. To be able to play Motown is a great experience, I think for us, our team, our players, as well as Motown.”
His team continued to battle back as Motown seemed to struggle in containing the young group. It came to a head after halftime in the 52nd minute. A long pass into the box found Southern onside. However, the forward bobbled the ball and initially turned around to the right. In an unbelievable move, he re-adjusted and turned back to goal, quick enough to not deal with incoming defenders, and chipped Greczek to tie the game at 2-2.
Balistierri didn’t make any substitutions at halftime. Seeing his team tie the defending national champions so soon after the break is proof enough of why he believes he made the right choice.
“I was very comfortable with the 11 we had in the field,” Balistierri said. “There was no need to make a change based on our game plan and our game strategy. We had confidence that we were gonna get the second goal.”
Motown looked tired and started making substitutions to try and compensate. Tempers began to flare up as yellow cards were dished out. Two went to the Motown bench during the second half. But the game slowly tilted back in the home side’s favor. In the 66th minute, Franco Catania cut towards the top of the box from the left side and shot low, finding the back of the net to give Motown a 3-2 lead.
The game nearly swung immediately back in the 71st minute. Mike da Fonte took down Southern in the Motown box, giving City a penalty kick. Matthew McGonigle stepped up to the spot, shooting left while Greczek went to the right. But the shot hit off the post with the rebound attempt going over the net.
“Anytime anybody misses from the spot it’s disappointing because I think there’s an expectation that you convert,” Balistierri said. “I think there was a lot of energy from our team dependent on that moment. When you think about the response from the third goal to get to the PK mark, that’s more reflective of who we are as a team, right? Not to quit, but to continue to compete. And the boys could very easily put their head down after giving up a third goal after going down two zero. But we didn’t.”
Both teams continued to fight, but Motown found the final goal of the match in the 88th minute. Rodrigo Descalzo Rocca scored his second postseason goal, following up his score from last week’s conference final, to make it 4-2.
Motown’s game on Saturday will be against a familiar foe. The New Jersey side will play West Chester United SC for the East Region trophy and a trip to the national semifinals. The two teams last met in the Keystone Conference championship last year, where Motown won in a penalty kick shootout.
Baah knows the type of team West Chester is. And after seeing both games on Friday he thinks the grit his team showed against Hartford is going to be an advantage compared to West Chester’s 4-0 win.
“I loved the fact that this game was very, very competitive,” Baah said. “It was fun and competitive. We have a little idea of what it takes to beat West Chester. Of course, we lost energy, but it’s more of the psychological influence heading into tomorrow’s game because it was tough. They wouldn’t expect anything less tomorrow. I think that’s a psychological advantage. But West Chester will be West Chester though. It is a battle of the wills, the one who wants the most wins.”
Photo Credit: Michael Battista/NPSL.com