For 120 minutes and some more in stoppage time, FC Mulhouse Portland generally had an answer to FC Motown’s relentless attack in the NPSL national semifinals on Saturday night.
Many times it was goalkeeper Scott Dalrymple, who made numerous game-saving saves. Sometimes it was a determined backline that blocked countless attempts and forced others to shoot wide left or right or over the crossbar.
As well as FCM Portland held off FC Motown, the visitors did not have an answer for one David Nigro.
After coming on midway through the second extratime to give the host side some fresh legs, the 23-year-old gave FC Motown something much more important — the winning goal.
The former Monmouth University standout scored during injury time in the second to lift FC Motown to a 2-1 triumph over FCM Portland at Ranger Stadium on the campus of Drew University.
The win boosted FC Motown into the championship game as it will host FC Miami 2, 3-0 home victors over FC Duluth in Saturday’s other semifinal, back here on Saturday, Aug. 4 at 7:30 pm.
“We battled until the very last minute,” Nigro said. “We gave everything we had.”
Asked what this win meant to the team: “I think it’s just everything. We really came from a co-ed team from the start. to be where we’re at right now, playing in a national final is something that a lot of teams don’t get the privilege to do. And it’s just really a testament to the owners, Sacir [Hot], who’s the coach. The hearts are in and we definitely want to win.”
Only after a few minutes on the field, Nigro, who sells insurance for a local company, made sure FC Motown was going to win as the dreaded penalty-kick shootout loomed.
Nelson Becerra started the winning sequence with a through ball to Lucas Terci on the right flank. Terci crossed the ball into the middle to Nigro, who headed the ball past the outstanding Dalrymple to the lower left corner.
“We were able to luckily pick one in the corner, not even near him, snuck one by him,” said Nigro, who said that Terci put in a ball in, that was “an inch perfect. It was there for the taking.”
And Nigro took it.
In the 90th minute against West Chester United SC in the Keystone Conference semifinal, Nigro flicked the ball to Terci, who connected for the equalizer before the team prevailed in penalty kicks to move on.
“So he played this one to me and I finished it for him,” he said. “I returned the favor, which was an awesome feeling for sure.”
Several minutes later, the final whistle sounded, and FC Motown had booked its spot in the final.
“We squeezed out the West Chester game, the Cosmos B game and this one, we squeezed out,” Hot said. “The guys fought to the end. Soccer’s a cruel sport, man. On any given night, this game could have went the other way. I want to congratulate Portland. They were phenomenal. Hats off to them. They were one of the strongest teams we’ve played this year.”
FCM Portland’s amazing playoff run was stopped short. The Northwest Conference side registered a 2-1 win at Spokane SC Shadow in the conference final, a 2-0 victory at El Farolito in the West Region semifinal, and a 6-4 triumph at Orange County FC in the regional final.
“It was a battle,” FCM Portland head coach Sergio Medel said. “We came to fight. Some of the things didn’t work out for us. They finished the last opportunity they had. It hurts because it was in the last minute of play. I’m very proud of the boys, my team. Every single one of them ran 120 minutes. They fought hard. It’s a good team. We faced a good team very good and very talented. There were moments when we struggled. But again, I think at some point also it could go either way.”
Only 20 seconds after Chris Katona headed a point-blank header wide left, FC Motown finally broke the ice. An interception of a Portland clearance allowed Dilly Duka to power a 20-yard shot past Dalrymple for a 1-0 lead in the 55th minute.
Portland, however, would not crawl up and die as halftime-substitute Nick Evans equalized with a shot from a difficult angle past keeper Abdoukarim Danso on the left side for a 1-1 deadlock in the 63rd minute.
FC Motown had several close encounters with Dalrymple, who was magnificent in the net. At one time or another, he denied Julius James, Walter Calderon, Duka, and Katona.
“I mean in my experience in soccer, when you don’t finish your chances, the other team usually comes back and capitalizes,” Hot said. “I was afraid this game was going to be one of those when you just can’t get the ball in the net and the other team just does enough just to squeeze out a win. I was concerned that could have been a possibility.”
Not surprisingly, both sides had superlatives for Dalrymple’s Man of the Match performance.
“Outstanding. He was outstanding,” Nigro said. “He made some crazy saves … He made some outrageous saves. On the bench we, thought the ball was in for sure, just somehow kept it out of the net.”
“He was phenomenal tonight,” Hot said. “The guys stood on his head and kept his team in this game.”
Added Medel: “Amazing. One of those things for the last few games he’s playing knowing the game and knowing his position and where to be. He anticipates the crosses very well. He reads the game. His positioning inside the box is amazing. Sometimes to myself, I feel like, ‘Shoot, was he there?’ And he was there. He has real good hands. As you saw, a few shots, he held them almost as though he had glue on his hands. I would say if you were going to ask me, most of the fans and on the other team, I think he’s the player of the match, even though we lost.”
Hot was going to enjoy the night before really thinking about his team’s last challenge of the season.
“Miami is a great team,” he said. “They started off slow. I believe they got a bunch of their NASL guys back from last year. That’s something [Sunday] when I wake up I’ll start scouting right away and come up with a game plan on how to take advantage of our strengths and limit their strengths. Tomorrow my work starts again.”
Contributor: Michael Lewis/NPSL.com
Photos Courtesy of FC Motown and Michael Lewis/NPSL.com