With Saturday night bringing four decisive results in the League One playoff race, there’s plenty to talk about before we get back to action on Tuesday night and the midway point of the regular season. From hat trick heroes to running shutout streaks, here are five things we took away from this weekend’s action.
SMARTENED UP: There could easily have been a sinking feeling in the stomachs of Forward Madison FC’s players when North Texas SC took a 15th-minute lead thanks to Ronaldo Damus on Saturday night at Breese Stevens Field. After all, NTSC had taken victory in each of the prior two meetings between the clubs this season, and Madison had yet to take a shot, let alone hit the target. But instead, the deficit only seemed to spur the Flamingos on in front of another sellout crowd of 4,211 as Don Smart led the way to a 4-1 romp that saw Madison register eight shots on goal to NTSC’s three. It wasn’t simply that Madison outshot North Texas, though, it was the attacking penetration the hosts managed with two-thirds of their shots coming from inside the penalty area.Smart’s ripped finish in the 64th minute brought the house down with its ferocity and gave the veteran a team-leading four goals this season as the Flamingos continued to drive back up the standings.
BOUNCING BACK: For its part, North Texas entered Saturday’s game shorthanded and was mostly left to hopeful efforts from the outside as it looked to stay in the game. This is the first real bump in the road for Head Coach Eric Quill’s side, and we could learn a lot about which direction the season is going to turn in the next week as North Texas returns to its happy hunting ground of Toyota Stadium for games on Tuesday night against FC Tucson and this Saturday against Lansing Ignite FC. If NTSC can retain its perfect record on home turf, it will handily rebuild its lead at the top of the league standings. If not, it could see rivals snapping at its heels sooner than it might have expected after a great start to the season.
LANSING LIGHTS IT UP: After its narrow midweek win last Wednesday night, the question for Lansing Ignite FC was whether it could for the first time this season back it up with a second consecutive win. In front of a club-record crowd of 4,818 at Cooley Law School Stadium, Ignite FC delivered in a big way. The hosts held the upper hand throughout the contest and made their superiority count with a pair of second-half goals, the second of which by Kevin Coiffic was of a quality that should have plenty of the first-time attendees coming back for more as Lansing enters the second half of its season. There’s still work to be done for Ignite FC with the sides sitting below it in third place holding games in hand, and this Saturday’s game with North Texas SC should offer an intriguing top-three clash, but after a rough run in the previous month, things have definitely turned in Ignite FC’s favor in June.
RED WOLVES RISING: If current momentum is the criteria by which we determine which side is the most likely to threaten Lansing Ignite FC in third place in the standings, the now-resurgent Chattanooga Red Wolves SC could soon be sitting pretty in the playoff positions. A 3-2 victory against Greenville Triumph SC on Saturday night brought the 10th point in the last four games for the Red Wolves, and did so on the back of the third hat trick in league history as Steven Beattie doubled his goal total for the season in a back-and-forth contest that saw the Irish forward score the winner with 13 minutes to go. On the other side, Greenville will again live with disappointment it didn’t find a winner after rallying to level after a substantial weather delay at halftime – Triumph SC outshot its hosts 12-5 after the break, including the opening seven shots of the half – but the Red Wolves are now within reach of Lansing with two games in hand as their homestand continues against the struggling Richmond Kickers this Saturday.
CAN’T STOP THE BEAT: Another week, another shutout for South Georgia Tormenta FC’s Pablo Jara, who is now close to doubling up his closest rival for the league-lead in clean sheets this season after registering his eighth of the campaign in a 1-0 win against the Richmond Kickers on Saturday night. That it extended Tormenta FC’s shutout streak to 504 minutes might have been the only notable takeaway from an overall dour contest – Marco Micaletto’s penalty kick with seven minutes to go that notched the only goal was also the only official shot on goal for either side – but it continues to say a lot that South Georgia has been so effective at closing down opponents this season. With a bye coming next ahead of a home clash with Forward Madison FC on July 6, Tormenta FC continues to put up a fortress around Jara’s net with a league-fewest 27 shots on goal allowed through 12 games.