A magnificent second-half strike by FC Baltimore substitute Sean Clarke propelled the Roons to the top of the Northeast Region’s Mid-Atlantic Conference Friday night via a 1-0 win over Northern Virginia United.
Clarke’s curling shot from the left edge of the penalty box illuminated an attritional, rain-soaked battle between these two well-matched NPSL debutants at Essex Community College.
The win edged Baltimore (4-2-1, 13 points) ahead of NVU (4-2-1, 13 points) on goal difference with three regular season games remaining and avenged a 3-0 loss in Virginia earlier in June.
“We weren’t threatening enough in the first half because we weren’t able to establish our midfield presence,” said Baltimore assistant coach Vini Dantas. “Sean is such a crafty player and our goal of putting him in at halftime was to get more shots.
“It paid off.”
The hosts started on the front foot with lively forward trio Joshua Fawole, Lucas Mendes, and Tre Pulliam showing some bright movement and link-up play without troubling opposing goalkeeper Colin Shutler.
Avionne Flanagan added another element to Baltimore’s attack with his willingness to overlap on the left side. NVU had only conceded four goals in six games coming into the weekend and Jade Mesias tested that resolve with a handful of dangerously delivered set pieces that were excellently repelled.
It took the visitors 36 minutes to create their first decent chance. Ryan Harmouche steered a neat flick into the path of Giovanni Vasquez. The University of Maryland forward could not find the target from 20 yards out.
Baltimore’s rowdy band of supporters thought they had a goal to celebrate shortly before the interval when Tunde Akinlosotu marauded forward from midfield. Akinlosotu unleashed a low drive from 25 yards out that beat Shutler’s despairing dive only to rattle against the outside of the goalkeeper’s side netting.
Northern Virginia captain Shaka Bangura looked most likely to create an opening in the early stages of the second half. The former Puerto Rico Islanders midfielder found space to deliver a couple of cutbacks toward the penalty spot that narrowly evaded his teammates.
Baltimore responded spectacularly as Clarke broke the deadlock with a stunning finish. Mendes had briefly dazzled NVU’s defense with some fast footwork before laying the ball off to the University of Cincinnati midfielder. Clarke shifted the ball inside to his right before wrapping his foot around it with the perfect combination of power, swerve, and direction to find Shutler’s far corner.
The latter stages were quite tense as NVU rallied to find the equalizer that would have maintained their position as the conference’s No. 1 seed. Baltimore goalkeeper Quantrell Jones kept his composure to expertly deal with a barrage of crosses to help his side over the finishing line.
“It was a hard-fought, even game,” said Northern Virginia head coach Brian Welsh. “We’re solid at the back and I can’t remember our goalkeeper making a save.
“They had a little more possession and the guy scored a ‘worldy,’ so it’s a tough one.”
Baltimore travels to FC Frederick next Wednesday before closing out its conference slate with home games against Legacy 76 and Charlottesville Alliance FC.
NVU hosts Legacy in midweek before ending the regular season with a home-and-away series against Virginia Beach City FC.
Contributor: Ian Thomson/NPSL.com
Photo Credit: Chris Singlemann/FC Baltimore