After playing a rather uneventful first half of soccer, the intensity of this NPSL Northeast Region first round game picked up as the second half began and didn’t let up the rest of the way.
After going scoreless through 90 minutes of regulation, the match proceeded to overtime where Fredericksburg FC’s Ryan Zinkhan converted a penalty kick in the 99th minute, giving the Mid Atlantic Conference champions a 1-0 victory over visiting Greater Binghamton FC Thunder at the University of Mary Washington’s Battleground Stadium on Saturday evening.
Dealing with the heat and humidity and settling into their game plan were keys to the outcome according to Zinkhan.
“We knew they were an older team, really experienced, so we knew it was probably going to be a one-goal game,” said Zinkhan, who’s coming off winning a national title with the University of Virginia last fall. “They were very organized, very discipline and they were big. So we kind of said we weren’t going to beat them physically, so we had to beat them with our soccer. That was moving the ball, and then our fitness really played a big factor in this game to win, especially playing that extra 30 minutes of overtime.”
GBFC head coach Al Mydlinski said it was a tough game between two quality teams that just didn’t go his side’s way on this day.
“It was an even game. Both teams were even,” he said. “The PK at the end was obviously a distinguishing factor. You’ve got a situation, not only where you do that, but you got the red card as well. You just can’t deal with it. You go down a man, but you just try and win.”
Not too surprisingly, the first half started off rather slowly as two teams that have not seen each other before tried to feel each other out.
GBFC (4-3-4) got the first opportunity of the game in the 10th minute when Jacob Sutherland got on the end of a cross just outside the far left post, but sent a header just over outstretched FFC goalie Pierre Gardan and the crossbar.
Thirteen minutes later Juan Monge came close for FFC (7-1-3), but his 22-yard free kick from the right hooked just wide of the far left post.
Perhaps the best chance of the opening stanza came in the 40th minute when FFC’s Patrick Sedjro got loose on the left side of the GBFC goal area and sent a sharp-angled shot off the left post. The Thunder defense cleared the ball from danger and neither team got closer the rest of the half.
The play picked up quickly after the intermission with FFC’s Mike Bennett finding Ivan Sakou with a cross at the right post in the 50th minute. The midfielder stretched for the ball to get a shot off, but a Thunder defender slid in at the last second, deflecting the effort up off the right post and out for a corner kick.
GBFC answered with a chance of its own six minutes later. Marcello Palucci got free on the right side of the FFC goal area, but his shot flew just over the crossbar as FFC’s Gardan flew through the air to make sure he had it covered in case in was on net.
FFC manufactured another chance a minute later, but Thunder goalie Brian Hochstuhl grabbed it at the near left post to shut the door.
Fredericksburg nearly ended the match in second-half stoppage time.
Arbelaez dribbled the ball into the GBFC final third and cut into the middle before dropping a pass back to Juan Monge. Monge took a touch and then sent a bending ball toward the back post just over a defender where Sakou ran onto it, flicking it over an onrushing Hochstuhl, but just inches over the crossbar from about 10 yards out.
Soon thereafter the whistle blew and teams trudged to their benches to quickly regroup before heading to overtime.
Once in the first extra session, it took FFC seven minutes to get the decisive opportunity to snap the scoreless affair.
In the 97th minute, Assane Keita played a wonderful ball over the GBFC defense to the right corner into a perfectly-timed run by Braden Van Allen. The late second-half substitute collected the ball, then took a sharp cut into the goal area where recovering GBFC defender Nicholas Economou tripped him up. This triggered the referee’s whistle, a red card and a penalty kick for Fredericksburg.
Zinkhan coolly stepped up for the spot kick and sent Hochstuhl the wrong way before tucking his kick into the left side of the net for a 1-0 lead in the 99th minute.
“I immediately said I wanted to take it. We’ve been practicing them in practice and we’ve taken a lot, so I was confident,” the midfielder said. “Braden did all the hard work. He got the PK, he made the hard run, and I just had to put it away.”
“I was hoping there wasn’t a defender behind me,” Van Allen added. “I took a peek and thought I’d cut in and luckily he was running full speed and clipped me. We thankfully got that PK and put it away.”
The rest of the frame then opened up as GBFC pushed for an equalizer.
Sandwiched around a header by the Thunder’s Lucas Heffron, comfortably saved by Gardan, FFC just missed doubling its lead twice on the counter attack, with Van Allen rolling one shot inches wide of the left post and Zinkhan forcing a brave save from Hochstuhl from close range in stoppage time.
The second extra period mostly consisted of Fredericksburg trying to run out the clock, but GBFC rallied some energy for one more big push late on, firing a shot toward goal that appeared to deflect off a FFC player’s arm in the box, but went for naught as there was no whistle and the game came to an end moments later.
“It was just one brilliant play. The guy got in behind and we had to take him down’,’ GBFC captain Christopher Riley said. “They capitalized on the PK and fortunately [in] soccer that’s how it works . . . 120 minutes and one mistake can bury you.”
Fredericksburg advances to the region semifinals against Keystone Conference champion Clarkstown SC Eagles (7-2-1) to be played Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a challenge. Our next two rounds would be on the road, so that’s always a challenge going into a foreign environment,” said FFC assistant coach David Kawesi-Mukooza. “It was a great atmosphere here tonight with the Slaughter Pen and the great attendance. We’re leaving our comfortable confines, but I think the team is going to stay unified and get themselves moving forward.”