Mere seconds after he scored the game’s final goal, Tavoy Morgan pulled off his shirt and began twirling it over his head in celebration.
Teammates from the Elm City Express engulfed Morgan as the final seconds ticked away in Saturday’s NPSL playoff match. The Express defeated Clarkstown (N.Y.) SC Eagles 3-1 at Reese Stadium on the campus of Yale University to win the Northeast Region Championship.
“I thought we deserved the breaks, I thought we deserved to move on,” Express coach Teddy Haley said. “But they are a quality team. It was a great run by them. They went to the final four last year, we’re going this year.”
Elm City, the Atlantic Blue Conference regular-season champions, will host CD Aguiluchos USA (Oakland, CA) a 1-0 winner over Orange County FC, in the national semifinals next weekend.
“To make the final four is a massive achievement with 96 teams in the league,” Haley said. “We have two more hopefully. We’re excited to be back here next week to host the national semifinal and then, hopefully, move on and put it all on the line for the national final.”
Said Elm City midfielder Christian Hernandez: “We have to keep performing, don’t dwell on what we’ve done but continue to get better. It will only get tougher. We have to continue to play our game, do what’s been working and hopefully, we can win it all.”
Hernandez had a goal and an assist in the first half as the Express (12-1-2) built a 2-0 halftime lead. Elm City peppered Clarkstown keeper Brian Lopez in the first half and finally broke through in the 18th minute. Hernandez crossed in from the left side to Shaquille Saunchez, who beat Lopez to his right for the score.
“I wanted to put it in a dangerous spot inside the 6. (Saunchez) made the run and he tapped it in,” Hernandez said.
The Express collected their second goal after Clarkstown was whistled for a foul outside the penalty box. After a long time spent in waiting for the Clarkstown defense to setup, Hernandez blasted away from 25 yards out to the upper left corner past Lopez.
Elm City goalkeeper Matt Jones deflected Clarkstown’s first shot of the second half off the crossbar. But the Eagles were awarded a penalty kick when a player was taken down in the box attempting to get the rebound off the crossbar.
In the 67th minute, Emmerson Lawrence drilled the penalty kick into the center of the net as Jones dove right. Then he took the ball out of the net, ran it to midfield and placed it down before the restart.
Clarkstown almost got the equalizer with approximately five minutes left in regulation when wide-open midfielder Max Garcia fired hard off the near post.
“The stadium went silent. There was no noise,” Hernandez said. “Then you hear the post. (The stadium) stayed silent for about 2 seconds. We were lucky to get away with it (no goal).”
Said Clarkstown coach Oliver Papraniku: “It was incredible (the shot), but that’s part of the game. They hit the woodwork twice also. They are a great team and deserved to win. I wish them the best in the next round.”
After Ibrahima Keita assisted on Morgan’s goal, a Clarkstown player and Papraniku were issued red cards before play resumed.
“This is what the NPSL is all about, players playing their hearts out, trying their best until the last second,” Papraniku said.
Clarkstown couldn’t get a shot off on any of its seven corner kicks in the game.