Harrisburg flew out to St. Louis without much hope for their season. They were mired in a five match losing streak, which was the longest such streak in the Eastern Conference so far in 2017. Thanks to all of the losses, they’d slipped all the way down to 14th in the standings. It felt like they wouldn’t have a chance against a playoff hungry Saint Louis side who had managed to keep a winning record at home this season. Instead of just giving up, the new look City Islanders put together an impressive performance and they managed to get their biggest feel-good win of the season.
Harrisburg did go with their new 3-4-3 look once again. Shawn McLaws was pulled back on defense to replace a missing Tiago Calvano (yellow card suspension) while Rasheed Olabiyi started in the midfield to replace Mo Dabo (also yellow card suspension). Jake Bond also started in the midfield in the spot that McLaws freed up, getting his first start in a while against his previous team.
The first fifteen minutes of the match stream were sadly lost to technical difficulties, but the general feeling was that Saint Louis was in control. They would go on to control more than 60% of the possession in the first half, but it was the City Islanders who were making the most of their scoring opportunities.
Harrisburg would strike first in the 32nd minute with one of the most complete sequences that they’ve had all season. Pedro Ribeiro received the ball at midfield and send a quick backheel to Jonny Mendoza. Mendoza made a sliding pass to poke the ball out for Freddie Opoku. Opoku was able to run the ball down the edge before sending a beautiful cross behind two defenders that Jake Bond was able to tap in to an open net. Watch and enjoy.
Saint Louis responded immediately and they controlled the attack for most of the rest of the half. Mats Bjurman had an excellent opportunity in the 37th minute when he worked a ball from Christian Volesky deep inside the box, but he sent the shot high. An even better opportunity came off of a corner kick in the 39th minute, as Harrisburg goalkeeper Sean Lewis just barely managed to get a paw on a shot from Dragan Stojkov, but the ball still sat in front of the net. Saint Louis’s Tony Walls closed down to tap it in, but Lewis recovered to make another great save. Here it is in slow motion.
Saint Louis was looking to shake up their offense as they came back for the second half, subbing in Daniel Jackson to replace Milan Petosevic. However, the chances were still few and far between. Their best opportunities came off of corner kicks, and they very nearly punched one in in the 65th minute. But Jonny Mendoza was in perfect position to block the goal with what was one of the biggest saves of the night.
Saint Louis finally found their equalizer in the 70th minute by reaching deep down into their playbook and coming up with the quick free kick. It was Tyler Feeley who snagged the ball after a Harrisburg foul and tapped a quick through pass to a streaking Volesky. Volesky was able to just slip it under Sean Lewis, and despite the City Islanders’ protests, the game was tied up at one.
A draw would do nothing for either side, so both teams pushed hard for the winning goal in the final twenty minutes. Saint Louis was able to win five corner kicks within the 78th and 86th minutes which was a big issue considering the City Islanders’ recent struggles with defending them. But it looked like Harrisburg must have brushed up on covering corners in practice, because they were able to keep the ball out of the net.
Both sides continued to trade shots deep into stoppage time and the breakthrough for Harrisburg didn’t come until the 93rd minute. Manolo Sanchez, a late sub for Ropapa Mensah, won a corner kick off of Ryan Howe. Sanchez has had minimal minutes since he was injured back in May, but he quickly and confidently set up to take the corner himself. The resulting shot went right to Jake Bond who headed it on to Pedro Ribeiro. Pedro sent a strong header to the near post that Adam Grinwis was unable to stop, and Harrisburg had the lead with less than a minute to go.
Saint Louis had time for one last shot, but it went quite high and wide. Harrisburg would easily run out the rest of the clock for their first win since they topped Richmond back on July 15th.
- The other unexpected lineup change for Harrisburg was Sean Lewis starting for Brandon Miller. Lewis had gotten a few starts earlier in the season, and he put in a strong performance Saturday night. He plays with a more range-y style than Miller, which can be dangerous at times. But he was able to shut down some opportunities before they ever really developed by attacking the ball well off his line.
- Saint Louis did no favors for their playoff hopes with this loss. They sit at 11th place and their future opponents include Orlando, Cincinnati, and Bethlehem. They need to make up and extra four or five points over their opponents in the next five matches, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to find them.
- In terms of Harrisburg’s playoff chances, it’s true that they’re not eliminated yet. But the maximum points they could win is only 42. FC Cincinnati is currently sitting at number eight in the standings, and they have 35 points already with 6 matches to play. So the window of opportunity is open a crack, but it’s a very small crack.