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Match recap: Harrisburg City Islanders 1, FC Cincinnati 1

A City Island upset turns into a draw at the last second

Delbridge is about to whiff on a bicycle kick
Chris Bratton

Oh, stoppage time. You are a cruel mistress. A mere three days after Harrisburg found a stoppage time goal to secure a win over Saint Louis FC, they saw their own victory over FC Cincinnati turn into a mere draw after Cincy found a goal deep, deep into stoppage time. But such is life when it comes to the beautiful game, and the City Islanders will just have to build on the fact that they came seconds away from defeating the same squad that clobbered them 3-0 earlier in the season.

Harrisburg remained in the 3-4-3 formation as expected. Mo Dabo and Tiago Calvano also returned to the starting line up along with Paul Wilson, who took up an offensive position in place of Cardel Benbow. And Aaron Wheeler even made an appearance on the bench after missing several months due to injury. FC Cincinnati, meanwhile, came without midfielder Corben Bone who stayed home due to an upcoming family delivery. Their biggest goal scorer, Djiby Fall, started the match on the bench.

Things took an unfortunate turn for FC Cincinnati early in the match. Tyler Polak picked up a leg injury after a Paul Wilson tackle. He attempted to play through it, but he was ultimately subbed off for Josu in the 13th minute. Now that they were missing playmakers like Bone and Polak, Cincinnati’s attack wasn’t much of a threat in the first half. Several times they tried to send a long pass into the Harrisburg box from midfield, but there was never anyone from Cincy to collect it. Instead they would fall to a Harrisburg defender or goalkeeper Brandon Miller would catch them uncontested. Most of the shots that the Cincy offense was able to take ended up in the stands and they didn’t manage a shot on goal in the half.

Harrisburg’s offense wasn’t generating much of an attack either. The two best opportunities came from Ropapa Mensah finding some space at the corner of the Cincinnati box. However, both of his shots were easily collected by Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt. So a 0-0 scoreline at the half wasn’t particularly surprising.

It was anyone’s game once the second half started, but FC Cincinnati came out of the locker room playing even more lethargic than they did in the first half. The City Islanders seemed to pick up on this, and they pressed hard for a goal. Ropapa Mensah nearly managed to chip Hildebrandt right after play resumed, and Paul Wilson had an open opportunity in the 47th minute that he just couldn’t get to. He ended up crashing into the goalpost for his trouble.

It was Jonny Mendoza who finally put the ball in the net in the 51st minute. Pedro Ribeiro had just collected the ball in the attacking third and lobbed it high for Ropapa Mensah. Mensah had the foresight to head it forward for an open Mendoza who then put a left footed shot past Hildebrandt towards the near post. The City Islanders found themselves with an unlikely 1-0 lead.

Harrisburg didn’t let off the gas right away, and they had a few more chances within the next ten minutes of play. Cincy looked to boost their offense with a few key subs, bringing on Djiby Fall in the 63rd minute and Andrew Wiedeman in the 72nd minute. This nearly paid off in the 74th minute as Djiby sent a shoot looping towards the goal from a very close angle, but Miller was able to control it.

Harrisburg’s substitutions started in the 74th minute, and they were all made with defense in mind. Danny Diprima came on for Paul Wilson (who probably needed a break after that collision with the goal) and Rasheed Olabiyi came on for Pedro in the 77th minute. Harrisburg continued to hold on as they made their final sub in the 83rd minute when Jake Bond came on for a beaten up Mendoza.

It was after the final sub was made that Harrisburg really hunkered down and started using up the remaining time. FC Cincinnati was frustrated by this, but they couldn’t find a way to get past the Harrisburg defense. Brandon Miller continued to make some impressive saves when called upon, including a beautiful one in the 68th minute which wasn’t even necessary because the flag was up for offside. The City Islander back line also deserves a lot of credit as Travis Brent, Lee Nishanian, and Tiago Calvano were breaking down plays and snuffing out chances all night.

The final call was for 4 minutes of stoppage, but the first minute wasn’t counted because Calvano had gone down on the pitch with an injury. Other events continued to stretch out the stoppage, such as a time wasting card for Miller and Mensah collecting a yellow for contacting Hildebrandt.

FC Cincinnati was surely down to their final play when they made a throw in from near midfield. After passing back, Cincy sent a long ball towards Djiby who managed to head a perfect ball to a streaking Jimmy McLaughlin. McLaughlin took his second touch and put it past Miller to equalize it at the death.

The final whistle blew about 5 seconds after the restart, showing the City Islanders just how close they were to their first victory over FC Cincinnati.

EXTRA THOUGHTS:

  1. This was kind of a long recap, so I’ll keep this brief. Harrisburg’s playoff chances were very close to nil before the match, and getting a draw only made that clearer. But this was not the first time that the City Islanders dropped points late in 2017. It’s certainly frustrating to know that, had a handful of plays gone differently this year, Harrisburg’s outlook could be completely different.
  2. It’d be easy to despise Jimmy McLaughlin for scoring so late against his former team, but he’s just such a nice guy. He swung by the Harrisburg supporters section after the match to chat about how nostalgic it was to be back on City Island. He even dropped some advice about his favorite Harrisburg night spots.