New Jersey Copa FC and the Electric City Shock appeared to be heading to penalty kicks in their National Premier Soccer League Northeast Region Keystone Conference semifinal. But Raphael Araujo had other ideas. Tied 1-1 after 120 minutes of soccer—including two periods of extra time soccer—and with the only minute of stoppage time waning, Araujo struck for the second time in the match, stuffing a point-blank shot into the upper right corner with just seconds remaining to set off pandemonium as New Jersey Copa FC dramatically prevailed, 2-1.
The stunning finish set the table for top-seeded NJCFC, the Keystone Conference regular-season champion, to host the Keystone championship game on Sunday, July 15 at 7:00 pm. It will face the winner of number two seeded Clarkstown SC Eagles and number three seeded West Chester United SC. NJCFC upped its mark to 8-1-2, including 5-0-1 in its last five games.
Araujo, who earlier put NJCFC in front 1-0 with a 30th-minute strike, was the clear pick as Jersey Mike’s Subs New Jersey Copa FC Man of the Match. Last week’s Mitre National Player of the Week, he netted his 11th and 12th goals of the season and has produced nine goals in his last three outings.
Araujo had six of NJCFC’s 13 shots, putting four on goal, while playing the full 120 minutes up front. He also had a potential goal in the 103rd minute waived off.
Eugene Heerschap and Daniel Vicente, who both entered the game as subs in the second overtime period assisted on the game-winner; Vicente had been on the field for only three minutes before his steal led to the game-winner. Travis Ward picked up an assist on the first NJCFC goal.
Matt Perrella stopped six shots to back up a defensive unit that blocked or forced high a majority of Electric City’s 20 shot attempts.
“I was very impressed with our resiliency tonight,” Roberto Aguas, New Jersey Copa FC head coach and team owner said. “After having two goals disallowed at key moments, our boys stayed focused and continued to work toward the great ending we saw today. To score the game winner in the extra minute after the double overtime was truly magical. We debated taking Rapha out a few times as he was showing the effects of heavy legs but we are thrilled we did not make that sub. Rapha continues to find critical goals at the most opportune times. Additionally, our large home crowd made a significant difference in giving the team energy throughout the 120 minutes. We are grateful for their support all season and look forward to having them all with us as we host the NPSL Keystone Conference Finals on Sunday.”
Vicente entered in the 118th minute and Heerschap in the 110th. Midway through the only minute of stoppage time, Vicente picked the ball off the Electric City right back’s foot along the left sideline, drove 15 yards down the left wing and sent a ball across the box to Heerschap who got a touch on the ball, deflecting it to his right. There was Araujo waiting, who extended his right foot, flicking a shot into the upper right corner as the crowd of nearly 600 at St. John Vianney High School erupted.
“It’s always great to see the changes we make during a match pay dividends,” Aguas added. “Both Vicente and Heerschap, who came in late in the match, created and assisted in the game-winning goal.”
Earlier in overtime it appeared that Araujo had put NJCFC in front when right back Andrew Santos made a nifty run up the right wing, sidestepped a defender while dishing a pass to Araujo, who unleashed a vicious one-timer top shelf. The 103rd-minute strike was negated by a foul at the end of the play.
Electric City outshot NJCFC 10-3 in the first half, but trailed 1-0 at the break. New Jersey Copa struck in the 30th minute as Ward slipped a thru ball onto the left wing sending in Araujo on the breakaway, drawing out Electric City keeper Blake Hammert (four saves), before blasting a shot into the near right side.
Despite the first-half shot discrepancy, Electric City’s only difficult first half shot was in the second minute when Brandon Smalley, who had a game-high nine shots (four on goal), won a ball on the right wing, turned and blitzed a shot that Perrella tipped up and over the crossbar.
NJCFC had a number of opportunities in the second half. Left back Modou Sowe set up Araujo for a toe poke in the 49th minute and the duo returned the favor in the 55th minute on a shot that was saved. Araujo just missed on a diving header in the 62nd minute off a Santos cross.
Smalley had a number of good looks at the net, but most from distance. After his breakaway was stopped in the 68th minute, he evened the game late in the 71st minute. A long ball down the right side by Victor Weaver found Smalley on a one-on-one breakaway, beating Perrella to the near right post.