USL News Release
Saturday, August 25, 2007
RICHMOND, VA – The Harrisburg City Islanders defeated the Richmond Kickers 8-7 in a nine-round penalty kick shootout Saturday night at the University of Richmond Stadium after playing to a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes of regulation and overtime. It was the fourth USL-2 title game to go past regulation in the last five years.
The fourth-year City Islanders pushed the USL Second Division Final into overtime on the strength of a first-half Islander goal by Brian Ombiji. The defending USL-2 champion Kickers drew level on a Ricky Schramm goal in the 75th minute. Defender Dustin Bixler of the City Islanders was named MVP of the USL-2 Final following the match.
“Bixler played a remarkable game,” said Harrisburg Head Coach Bill Becher. “He improved in every match this season and continued to take more and more chances away from Richmond as tonight’s game wore on. He really stepped up his game in the final and as part of a defense that is incredible, he stood out this evening.”
The long night of action began in the eighth minute as a letdown in Harrisburg’s stout defense allowed Richmond’s David Bulow in one-on-one with goalkeeper Matt Nelson. Nelson expertly cut down the angle Bulow had on goal and in the end, Bulow was left with a decent-at-best look at the far post. Bulow took the shot, it went wide by about a half foot, and Bulow looked to the sky as if to say he should have done better.
Perhaps he should have as good looks at Bulow and fellow net minder Ronnie Pascale, were few on a hot night in Richmond.
Richmond’s offense looked to their leader, USL Second Division MVP Mike Burke, on the right wing throughout the first half, but Harrisburg limited his one-on-one chances with quick arriving second and third defenders. Burke’s chances were limited to several trickling deflections that Nelson quickly gobbled up.
In the 17th minute Harrisburg counter attacked. Working up their right flank, they played a quick ball in to forward Brian Ombiji. Working towards the left side of the pitch Ombiji got off a low shot that Pascale handled with ease. The ensuing punt however, was won by Harrisburg.
A rapid ball over the top sent fellow striker Steve Fisher in on goal as much as Bulow had ever been. But again, practiced goaltending prevailed. Pascale limited Fisher’s look on goal to the near post and Fisher, having to put a little more velocity than placement on the strike, knocked it into the outside netting of the near post.
The end to end action continued nearing the 40th minute.
This time Richmond, in almost the exact same scenario as Bulow’s earlier attempt, broke in on net after receiving a feed from Bulow himself. Bulow played a timely ball between two defenders to midfielder Sasha Gorres. Gorres’s first touch was perfect in receiving the pass but his second, after taking a look at Nelson charging off his line, sent the ball over the end line. The move to charge off his line proved perfect for Nelson, a habit Harrisburg has grown accustomed to over the past 17 games.
Beating the halftime whistle by seconds, Harrisburg took a huge step towards their bid for the USL Second Division Championship on a play that started with their calling card – good defense.
David Shofield took everyone in the crowd by surprise when he intercepted a pass from a Richmond defender deep in his offensive third. Pushing the ball wide, Shofield played the ball back across the face of the goal. The cross was too far out for Pascale to challenge, yet far enough in front of Shofield’s target Ombiji, that the forward could run onto it. Ombiji did run. He sped past two Kicker’s defenders and one-timed the ball past Pascale for a 1-0 City Islanders lead at the break. Turning his attack towards the corner flag for the celebration, Ombiji had success there too, getting off a three-punch combo before his teammates arrived.
Harrisburg’s strength being defense and Richmond being down a goal, it was not surprising to see Richmond on the offensive to begin the second 45.
In on goal in the 49th, Richmond’s Nowaf Jaman played a ball around a defender to get a sniff of Nelson’s net. Again, Nelson smothered the attempt as soon as it left Jaman’s foot.
The Kickers controlled play for a large portion of the second half, getting consecutive chances for the first time in the 57th minute. This chance came from a close-range free kick taken by Burke. He approached it and bent a ball towards the upper left corner of Nelson’s goal. The ball beat Nelson to his left, but sailed harmlessly wide of the target.
Subbed in just before the free kick, talented forward Ricky Schramm led a barrage of substitutions as both coaches looked for ways to gain an edge late-on. Harrisburg sent in Matt Tanzini and Mike Lookingland. Richmond looked for something special out of Ihor Dotsenko and Schramm.
Tanzini looked good immediately, running at tired defenders with break-neck speed, but Schramm proved to be the best of them all.
Nearing crunch time in the 75th minute, Schramm leveled the Kickers 1-1 with his team-leading seventh goal of the season. But, the goal was less Schramm than it was Burke, who brought down a cross from the left flank with a one-time heel pass to Schramm just outside the six yard box. Schramm had enough time to tell Burke how pretty the pass was before firing a ball past Nelson.
Pushing forward, Harrisburg regained their procession in the final minutes as the supporter groups of Richmond and the well traveled City Islanders got into a head-to-head shouting match as regulation time expired.
The two clubs seemed satisfied with a draw for the first period of overtime, probably less satisfaction and more not wanting to make a mistake, they regained their regulation urgency in the second period of overtime.
The best chance went to the defending champs as the match should have ended with a lengthy blast from Gorres in the 115th minute. The ball was perfectly placed and hit solid. Bound for glory, the ball collided with the fingertips of Nelson, who had no business getting there. It spun out for a corner kick that Richmond could not do anything with. Not against Nelson anyway.
The game headed to kicks from the mark for the second time in three years for Richmond and for the third time in the last four USL-2 Championship games.
Nate Baker led off a precise, nine-round marathon between two champions that refused to bid farewell to the most competitive USL Second Division season in history. He finished into the low left corner of the net for a 1-0 Harrisburg lead. Bulow got a better look than his first opportunity and, over 110 minutes later, he proved he did have better.
Lookingland and Gorres made it 2-2 in the second round, but Nelson guessed correctly in the third, making a diving save to his left to give Harrisburg an edge. Pascale would not be outdone. He stonewalled the next shot he saw to even the score back up, 3-3 going into the fifth round of kicks.
Four more rounds of precise finishing followed for both clubs. Defenders and goalkeepers stepped up to the mark as every player left on the field at the end of overtime became an important part of the scoring regime.
Pascale, two years after seeing his seventh round shot go off the crossbar in Seattle to give the Sounders the title, stepped to the mark in the eighth round and put it away this time.
In the ninth round, defender Ryan Pierce flirted with disaster, hammering his shot centimeters under the crossbar to put Harrisburg up 8-7. Richmond defender Evan Harding stepped to the mark and tried the same trick, but the crossbar, now awakened, would have none of it. The ball ricocheted down and forward, back onto the field. Harrisburg was the champion of USL’s Second Division.
“It’s tough,” said Richmond Captain and USL-2 MVP Mike Burke following the match. “This is a tough way to end a season but they deserved it. Harrisburg came in here, to our environment, to our field – and won. The game was very evenly matched, all the way down to the ninth round of penalty kicks but I am happy for them. It feels good to win like that. I have a lot of respect for them.”
“I cannot ask for more,” said USL-2 Final MVP, defender Dustin Bixler of Harrisburg. “It is the best feeling in the world and I would not trade it for anything.”
Championship Overtime and Penalties
Ninety minutes has proven to not be enough for the Richmond Kickers or the USL Second Division in championship games over recent years. The USL-2 title was decided after regulation for the fourth time in the past five years while Richmond went past regulation for the fourth time in their last five championship game appearances.
USL Second Division Championships
2007: Harrisburg (8) 1 @ 1 (7) Richmond - penalties
2006: Charlotte 1 @ 2 Richmond - regulation
2005: Charlotte (5) 2 @ 2 (4) Western Mass - penalties
2004: Utah (5) 2 @ 2 (4) Charlotte - penalties
2003: Westchester 1 @ 2 Wilmington – overtime
Richmond Kickers Championship Games
2007 USL-2: Harrisburg (8) 1 @ 1 (7) Richmond – penalties
2006 USL-2: Charlotte 1 @ 2 Richmond
2005 USL-1: Richmond (3) 1 @ 1 (4) Seattle – penalties
2002 USL-1: Richmond 1 @ 2 Milwaukee – overtime
1996 USL-2: California 2 v 1 Richmond – shootout