When Harrisburg’s 2017 schedule was unveiled, the month of September stood out right away. While there were six matches squeezed into the thirty days, five of them would be on City Island. It certainly felt they they would be the golden opportunity for Harrisburg to build some momentum at the end of the season. As hoped, the City Islanders were able to send the local fans home happy courtesy of a 1-0 victory over Ottawa Fury FC on Wednesday and a 2-0 victory over Saint Louis FC on Saturday.
Wednesday’s match against Ottawa was a bit of a sluggish affair at first as both sides had to deal with the unexpected late September heat. There wasn’t much action on field during the first half, and Ottawa didn’t even manage a shot during that time. In fact, the most important person on the pitch during the first half was the head referee. He gave several lengthy talks to players after fouls, but it didn’t reach for his pocket for a card until the 40th minute.
Unfortunately for Harrisburg, the card that came out was a red for Cardel Benbow. Benbow left his feet to try and kick a ball out of play. Unfortunately for him, he made contact with an Ottawa player with his high boot. The referee didn’t hesitate to reach for the red card, and Harrisburg had to prepare to play the entire second half a man down.
The natural strategy for Ottawa would be to come out of the half and push hard for the go ahead goal on the depleted City Islanders. However, the Fury returned to the pitch without enough focus on the task at hand, and Harrisburg made them pay for it. Just thirty seconds after the second half kickoff, Jonny Mendoza picked up a pass in the offensive third and slipped it out to Ropapa Mensah. Mensah drew Ottawa goalkeeper Callum Irving out of position to try and make the stop then casually chipped the ball toward the far post to give the City Islanders the lead.
Ottawa didn’t know how to react to this unfortunate turn of events. They were supposed to completely dominate the second half but Harrisburg managed to flip the script on them. But they still couldn’t manage to find the energy to really attack the Harrisburg goal. The City Islanders made the decision to park the bus shortly after gaining the lead, and they loaded up their half of the pitch for most of the half. Harrisburg goalkeeper Sean Lewis was never seriously tested by Ottawa, and he was only called on to make three saves. Ottawa was only able to manage six shots the entire night.
The win over Ottawa allowed Harrisburg to jump over them in the standing and helped stave off mathematical elimination from playoff contention for one more night. Meanwhile the frustrating loss for the Fury meant that the playoff chances for the former NASL side were pretty much gone.
Harrisburg then welcomed familiar foes Saint Louis FC to City Island on Saturday night. These two sides had met just 21 days earlier when Harrisburg took the win in Saint Louis thanks to a late Pedro Ribiero goal off of a corner kick. Harrisburg kept their 3-4-3 shape, but they switched up a few positions for the match. Manolo Sanchez made his first start for the team since the early part of the season and Abass Mohammed made his way back into the lineup shortly after he was announced as a call up for the Ghana national team.
Both of those players made their presence felt early as Harrisburg lineup up for a corner kick within the first five minutes. It felt like the Saint Louis defenders hadn’t gotten their heads in the game yet and Mohammed was able to curl a perfect ball into an open Sanchez in front of the net. He was able to easily power a header past Saint Louis goalkeeper Devala Gorrick and Harrisburg had an early 1-0 lead.
Not content with just the one goal, Harrisburg pushed for a few more. Sanchez knocked another header off of the crossbar in the 9th minute and Ropapa Mensah had a shot on goal that Gorrick was forced to save. Mensah had another open opportunity in the 18th minute as he caught Gorrick out of position, but the ball rolled just wide. Saint Louis had opportunities as well, but they were few and far between. The best opportunity for them was courtesy of Christian Volesky in the 14th minute, but he was called offside.
The physical nature of the game started to become a factor in the second half. Tiago Calvano committed a bad foul in the 51st minute that earned him a yellow. Pedro Ribiero earned one of his own in the 54th minute when he kicked a ball in frustration that was directed a little too close to a Saint Louis player. But that sort of play was to be expected. Harrisburg and Saint Louis are number one and number two in total fouls conceded in the USL.
After threatening for most of the half, Harrisburg got their insurance goal in the 75th minute. Jonny Mendoza lobbed a pass forward for Mensah that he was able to chest down and control in the box. He was able to get physical with the Saint Louis defender to work the ball towards the end line before turning and slipping a low shot past Gorrick and just inside the far post. It was the second time that week that Mendoza has assisted on a Mensah goal.
So it was gut check time for Saint Louis, but they weren’t able to mount a serious attack to make up the two goal difference in the final minutes. Volesky had the best chance in the 84th minute, but his shot missed wide right. In fact, Harrisburg pushed much harder looking for their third goal than Saint Louis did for their first. Mensah nearly found another goal in the 79th minute off of a loose ball that found its way into the box, but he wasn’t able to put any power behind it and it rolled wide.
Seth Rudolph had the final chance in the 90th minute, but he just hoofed his shot deep into the stands. Three minutes of stoppage wasn’t enough for Saint Louis to pull of a miracle, and Harrisburg picked up their third consecutive win.
For those of you keeping score at home, that’s Harrisburg’s seventh win on City Island in 2017. That’s a huge improvement over 2016 when they only managed to win one time on City Island. They’ve also greatly improved their average attendance and their record highest attendance. So even though the playoffs are now out of reach, there were a lot of improvements to build off of in 2017.
- Despite Harrisburg’s impressive play during the month of September, this weekend’s results officially put them out of playoff contention. They simply had too much ground to make up and not enough time to do it in.
- Harrisburg’s final match at Charleston is going to be a lot tougher because they’ll be making the trip without Pedro Ribiero and Ropapa Mensah, who both picked up yellow card suspensions after the Saint Louis match on Saturday night.
- The City Islanders may not lead the league in many stats, but they might take home the title for most fouls conceded. They’ve conceded 509 so for in 2017, which is 55 ahead of their nearest competition, Saint Louis FC.
- There is one stat that Harrisburg can be proud of. Their four wins in the month of September were the most wins in the entire USL Eastern Conference. Only Phoenix Rising FC had more wins with six. However, they played a whopping eight matches this month.