Well that was unexpected.
Perhaps there was a little Canada Day magic in the air on Saturday afternoon. Two of the USL’s weaker offenses were taking the pitch, and all signs pointed towards 90 minutes of solid defensive play and minimal scoring. Instead, both sides managed to defy expectations with a wild & crazy seven goal extravaganza.
Harrisburg stuck to their guns following last Saturday’s win and started ten of the eleven starters from the that match. The only change was bringing on Danny Diprima in the midfield for John Grosh. It makes sense for the City Islanders to stick with the players who got them the points, but it was certainly a surprise to see Lee Nishanian on the bench after he had played so solidly at center back this season. He only missed the previous match due to a red card suspension for a professional foul against Bethlehem.
The City Islanders wasted no time attacking the net and they had their first solid scoring opportunity in the 8th minute when Jaime Thomas collected the ball at the top of the box and sent it forward to a streaking Pedro Ribeiro. Pedro’s shot was saved thanks to a brilliant stop by Toronto goalkeeper Mark Pais, but the rebound went right back to an open Thomas, who sent his shot wide.
Thomas and Ribeiro would get another opportunity in the 23rd minute. Thomas was fouled just outside the box and Pedro stepped up to take the resulting free kick. He sent his shot at a shallow angle across the net and towards the far post. A diving Pais was able to get a hand on it, but it still found its way into the net to put the Islanders up by one.
Toronto didn’t wait long to respond with some free kick magic of their own. Luca Uccello took a kick for the Young Reds in the 28th minute and Mitchell Taintor managed to get to the ball just before it hit the ground. He buried his volley in the top right corner to draw things level at one. It was a brilliant move by Taintor, and what I would call the goal of the afternoon.
Not happy to lose the lead under these circumstances, Harrisburg answered back even faster. In a textbook case of “life comes at you fast,” left back Abass Mohamed sent a long ball forward that Ribeiro was able to just barely keep in bounds. He was able to use his position along the sidelines to quickly dribble the ball towards the goal line before firing a perfect cross to an open Jake Bond. Bond easily got his shot around Pais to make it 2-1 Harrisburg. The whole sequence from Mohamed’s kick to the goal took just ten seconds.
But wait, there’s more! Just as I was consulting with Evan (who was watching the Harrisburg match while Bethlehem waited out a weather delay) about how wild it was to see three goals scored in this match, Toronto’s Akim Adams and Luca Ochello caught the Harrisburg defense napping. After Adams was able to beat the last defender, he sent a wild, bouncing shot towards Ochello to get the ball around a closing Brandon Miller. Ochello was able corral it just enough to send it towards the open goal. Abass Mohamed was unable to run it down, and it was all tied up again.
The 2-2 scoreline held until the half, and both sides came back on the pitch looking to keep the momentum going. Unfortunately for Toronto, the air was about to leave their sails in one of the worst possible ways. Jake Bond made an open run up the right side in the 48th minute and fired a low shot that Pais was able to get a hand on, but not stop completely. Toronto’s Brandon Aubrey charged hard to knock away the rebound, but the ball took an unexpected bounce off of his shin and wound up in the Toronto net instead. The own goal gave Harrisburg the lead for the third time.
For the first time in the match, Toronto failed to respond after falling behind the City Islanders. Picking up on this, Harrisburg was able to press their advantage in the 58th minute. This time it was Jaime Thomas who got a look at the goal and Pais was forced to make another excellent save. This rebound found its way to the feet of Paul Wilson and he was able to tuck the ball away to give the City Islanders a 4-2 lead.
Up two goals with half an hour to play, Harrisburg seemed content to maintain possession and take any chances as they came up. This was effective until the 74th minute when Toronto sub Ricardo John shook his defender to create a 2-on-1 with Brandon Miller. He deftly passed it to an open Aikim Andrews who made an excelent finish to bring the score to 4-3.
So with fifteen minutes plus stoppage time to go, it was all hands on deck for Toronto. They controlled the offense for the rest of the match and pressed heavily whenever Harrisburg tried to possess the ball past midfield. They were rewarded with multiple corners, but they were poorly taken and Miller was able to make some clutch catches to shut them down. Regular time ended without an equalizer, but four minutes of stoppage time were awarded. Toronto was able to get a ball into the box at what seemed to be the very last second, but the resulting shot was well wide. Harrisburg managed to preserve their 4-3 advantage and earn their second win in as many matches.
- Harrisburg’s Rasheed Olabiyi was subbed off after catching a hard elbow from Toronto’s Liam Fraser in the 15th minute. Fraser only received a yellow for the hit, but check the disciplinary report to see if this one gets upgraded.
- My favorite statistic from Saturday night: 33% of Toronto’s total scoring for the 2017 season occurred during this match.
- Jaime Thomas deserves a shout out for his play tonight and what he has done for Harrisburg so far this season. He didn’t get any assists, but drawing a Toronto foul helped set up Pedro’s goal in the 1st half while his rebounded shot helped set up Paul WIlson’s goal in the 2nd half. Unfortunately for the Islanders, they’ll have to do without him against Rochester as he will miss a match due to yellow card accumulation.
- Rebounds are a statistic for the NBA, but they had a big impact in this match. Harrisburg scored two goals by tapping in rebounds, and they could have potentially gotten more the same way. With their offensive struggles, this seems to indicate that they could try powering more shots towards opposing keepers and seeing what happens.
- An interesting sub was made in the 79th minute when center back Lee Nishanian came on for forward Pedro Ribeiro. It was unclear if this meant that Bill Becher was bringing on a 5th defender or if Nishanian was about to try his hand at playing striker for ten minutes. Sadly we never got a clear answer because Harrisburg didn’t make any serious runs in the offensive third during that time. Pity.