The Elm City Express defeated TSF FC 2-0 in front of an energized crowd of nearly 1,000 fans on Saturday night at Reese Stadium in New Haven, Connecticut. The game was Elm City’s first- ever playoff appearance after their dominant inaugural season, where they finished with a 9-1-2 record and clinched the first seed in the conference.

Just seven days earlier, the Express had dispatched TSF FC with a score of 4-0, so local fans had high hopes going into the game. However, the Express experienced an unusually slow start and had some trouble finding their groove in the playoff matchup.

Coach Haley said that TSF “set up a bit differently, and made it a bit more difficult for us.”

TSF sat deeper than they had the previous weekend and sought to control the game by not allowing the Express to link up in the attacking third. Elm City’s Daniel Oliveira tested the TSF keeper twice within the first fifteen minutes with a speculative volley and an audacious bicycle kick, but both efforts were easily dealt with. Elm City’s main offensive threat in the first half came from Cristhian Hernández, whose pinpoint deliveries from set pieces tested the TSF backline and created chances for his teammates. Although the Express enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, they struggled with getting shots off. At halftime, the Express had only two shots and TSF had zero. At the break, neither team looked particularly dominant.

Elm City came out of the halftime break revitalized and began to put pressure on TSF. The Express’s ever-steady backline began to control the tempo of the game, and as Elm City grew into the game, the chances began to flow. Cristhian Hernández continued his streak of excellent free kicks with a cross that found the head of Ibrahima Keita, but his header bounced over the crossbar from point-blank range. In the 53rd minute, Hernández struck a beautiful 30-yard free kick that looked destined for the top right corner, but it rattled the crossbar to maintain the deadlock.

In the 56th minute, Express head coach Ted Haley made a key substitution, bringing on Tavoy “The Bull” Morgan for Graciano Brito.

“Coming in for the second half means I’m coming in to make history,” said Morgan. “I do what I do best, and that is scoring.”

Just seven minutes later, the switch would pay dividends. Elm City’s Arian Lekaj sent in an ambitious high cross from almost his own half that looked like an easy catch for the TSF goalkeeper, but goalie Mateo Zabala misjudged the ball and dropped it, resulting in an easy tap-in for Morgan at the far post. The TSF goalie’s miscue gave Elm City the momentum, and they never looked back.

The addition of “The Bull” to the frontline brought new energy to the Express. In the 65th minute, Morgan seemed surrounded by four TSF defenders after a deep clearance, but he used his strength to break free and get a shot away. In the 76th minute, Shaquille Saunchez used his skill to beat two men down the right wing and cut a ball back to Morgan, but his shot was blocked. TSF threatened in the 79th minute after Almir Batista Jr. rocketed a shot just wide of the right post from close range, but they rarely threatened Elm City keeper Matt Jones’s goal. Jones and his backline dealt with crosses from the TSF wingers well and calmly distributed the ball, even under pressure from a desperate TSF team.

Finally, in the 89th minute, the Express got the second goal they needed to put the game to bed. An Elm City counterattack after a TSF setpiece resulted in a 4v1 breakaway. “The Bull” crossed the ball to Lucas Gabriel Sousa, who was taken down by the TSF goalkeeper, resulting in a penalty kick. Sousa delivered with a cool finish into the bottom left corner of the goal, which all but decided the result.

With the victory, Elm City advances to the Northeastern Conference semi-final and will take on Legacy 76 from Williamsburg, VA.

“We just have to be focused, stay prepared, play with physicality, and be ready,” said Morgan on the upcoming game.

Coach Haley added that the Express “need to make sure that their fight is there; you’re not always going to be technically great, but the commitment needs to be there in the playoffs.”

With the loss, TSF’s season comes to an end. They finished the season with a final record of 7-4-2. Congratulations to TSF FC on their winning season. Stay tuned for updates on the Express’s upcoming playoff action.

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