By William Engels/NPSL.com
Even with a two-goal deficit to Golden Gate Conference Champions El Farolito approaching second-half stoppage time in the 2023 NPSL West Region Final, Kalani Kossa-Rienzi and Crossfire Red knew from their shared experiences together that anything was still possible for the match.
“You know you’re not always going to come out on top early on,” Kossa-Rienzi said about the match. “We knew that going down 2-0 wasn’t necessarily the end of the world or anything. If we really trust in ourselves and trust in each other, we’d be able to come back. 2-0 is the most dangerous lead in soccer. We knew that as soon as we got one goal, our momentum would carry us, and we’d definitely get another one.”
“We are a team full of guys who have all played together in various teams, pick-up games, practices, whatever,” he added. “We all know each other pretty well, we know each other’s capabilities, and we know that it’s not always going to be perfect.”
Kossa-Rienzi was used to the pressure himself. As a member of the University of Washington side that advanced to the National Championship match of the 2021 NCAA College Cup, Kossa-Rienzi started five games and provided one assist during their run in the tournament. Along the way, the Huskies knocked out three seeded opponents, including eight-time NCAA champions Indiana.
“When it comes down to win-or-go-home [games], it’s something that you lock in in a different way,” he said of the feeling of playing in knockout tournaments. “I think that now, being in another playoff run to win another national championship, is something that’s really crazy. I think I take those experiences that I’ve had through college – being able to compete at that level – and just translating that right into this level.”
With Crossfire Red this season, Kossa-Rienzi scored eight goals as the club captured the Northwest Conference title with a 7-2-1 record (22 points). Following the season, he was named a Capelli Sport 2023 Conference XI selection for the Northwest Conference.
Last week’s match against El Farolito didn’t start the way Crossfire Red wanted it to. Goals in the 24th and 59th minutes gave El Farolito a 2-0 lead in front of a loud home crowd at Kezar Stadium. While the lead might seem insurmountable for teams, Crossfire Red were up for the challenge. Kossa-Rienzi opened the scoring for Crossfire Red in the 88th minute. Hamza Haddadi added a second goal two minutes later to tie the game and force added extra time, stunning the home crowd.
“That kind of made it so much better,” he said about the late equalizing goal. “We were going into overtime and we were just all super-hyped; ready to keep playing and ready to compete some more. Everyone’s having a good time, enjoying it and super excited.”
In added extra time, Crossfire Red ultimately found their breakthrough moment. In the 108th minute, Kossa-Rienzi fired a shot past El Farolito goalkeeper Johan Lizarralde to give Crossfire Red a 3-2 lead that ultimately clinched the West Region and a spot in the NPSL National Semifinals for the Washington side.
“It felt amazing,” he said. “It’s always fun to score a game-winner and come back from 2-0 down and win the game. I love that feeling of scoring, but also that feeling of going to the corner and celebrating with your teammates; all jumping on each other and hugging each other, smiling and laughing about it.”
The victory was Crossfire Red’s second come-from-behind win of their playoff run. In the West Region semifinals, the side defeated Southwest Conference champions FC Arizona 2-1 with Kossa-Rienzi scoring the match-winning goal in the 56th minute to storm back from an early 1-0 deficit. Even more impressively, both comeback wins came on the road.
Saturday’s NPSL National Semifinals match against Midwest Region champions Tulsa Athletic could prove a challenge for Crossfire Red. The 2021 NPSL runners-up notably made a run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup this season, advancing to the Third Round and facing MLS club Sporting Kansas City. However, Kossa-Rienzi and Crossfire Red are prepared for the challenge.
“We’re excited,” he said about the upcoming fixture. “We know that it’s win-or-go-home. None of us want to fly out to Tulsa and just get beat by them, so we’re going to do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen. We know it’s going to be hot, but mostly we’re trying to get in that mindset of winning and playing our hardest. We know that when it comes down to that, we’ll make it work.”
Photo Credit: Nap Badillo/NPSL.com