Saturday, August 31, 2013
RICHMOND, Va. – The Charlotte Eagles advanced to the 2013 USL PRO Championship Game as they took a 2-1 victory against the Richmond Kickers on Saturday night at City Stadium. After the Kickers had taken an early lead on a Mike Callahan tally, the Eagles grabbed two first-half goals courtesy of Christian Ramirez and Nate Thornton that went unanswered through regulation to send Charlotte on to face Orlando City for the USL PRO Championship next Saturday night at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
With the chance to host the final on the line, the Kickers opened scoring in the 11th minute when Brian Ownby battled for the ball on the left wing, forcing Eagles defenders to clear it over the goal line. Lining up the resulting corner kick, the midfielder served an inswinger into the penalty area and found Callahan, who made no mistake from the top of the six-yard area.
Defender Conor Shanosky nearly doubled the score nine minutes later when a corner pinged through the penalty area before falling to Joseph Ngwenya. The Zimbabwean international lofted the ball back into the mix as the big defender leapt to get a nod but his close-range header skimmed just over the crossbar.
Ngwenya was dangerous again in the 24th minute when he controlled the ball at the top of the box and laid it off for Ownby who skied his shot from the right side of the box.
The Eagles leveled the score just past the half-hour mark when midfielder Ben Newnam carried the ball deep on the left wing and sliced a perfectly placed cross into the box. An unmarked Ramirez dove from six yards to redirect a header into the back of the net.
Looking to regain the advantage in the 37th minute, Kickers defender Alex Lee trapped the ball in the midfield and sprung Ownby free behind the defense. The Kickers playmaker took one touch but blasted a shot high from the top of the penalty area.
Weathering the offensive pressure, the Eagles turned the tables and struck again two minutes later. Midfielder Stephen Okai eluded defenders at the top of the penalty area and slotted a pass through to an onrushing Thornton. Facing Kickers goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra one-on-one, Thornton struck his shot to the near post and the effort rolled just under the keeper’s legs to give the visitors the lead heading into the break.
The Kickers nearly pulled the goal back just after the restart when Ngwenya warded off defenders on the right wing, drawing Eagles goalkeeper Eric Reed off his line and leaving forward Matthew Delicate with a wide-open shot from the penalty area but an Eagles defender cleared the chance off the line.
In an effort to clear the ball in the 51st minute, Dykstra’s missed clearance fell to Ramirez who fired from 16 yards, but the Kickers goalkeeper was able to get a finger tip on his shot to parry it past the upright. A few minutes later, defender Henry Kalungi slotted a through ball to Nate Robinson who took one touch and then out-paced his mark to keep it from going over the endline. He played the ball back to Ownby who settled it and lobbed a cross to Delicate but the forward’s header from point blank range dipped just over the crossbar.
Dykstra soared into action five minutes later when the Eagles retaliated with a dangerous play that saw midfielder Juan Guzman slot the ball back to Sergio Villasenor who laid it off to Jorge Herrera 20 yards out. The swift forward played the ball wide to Ramirez but his whistling shot was denied by the Kickers lunging goalkeeper.
The Kickers quickly counter-attacked as Dykstra immediately distributed it out to Ngwenya who carried the ball the length of the field and squared the ball at the last second for an onrushing Michael Seaton who one timed a shot from six yards out, but Reed’s reaction save prevented the equalizer in the waning minutes to end the Kickers’ season just shy of the Championship and keep the Eagles remakable postseason run alive.