The San Diego Flash scored two goals off two corner kicks tonight, and now go to Atlanta with a 2-0 lead. While both teams were almost equal in the statistical categories, two poorly defended set plays allowed the Flash to have a two goal cushion going into the second leg of the playoffs.
The game started with a minute of silence and a moving rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in honor of those who lost their lives on September 11. Both teams wore black armbands, and the stadium was decorated with American flags, and red, white and blue ribbons. Once the game started, it was nice to feel the excitement of the game, and the gradual return to normalcy. Not that we have forgotten those who lost their lives, but we are not letting evildoers change our way of life. It was nice to go on.
The game started with both teams playing somewhat evenly. But neither team could get very organized right in front of the goal. Referee Richard heron was quick to establish his authority, and spent the rest of the game being very particular about ball placement on free kicks and throw ins. To most fans, this ended up detracting from the game. The referee also spent several minutes talking to the players after a foul was called, as if they were in high school. But in the few games I've seen Heron officiate, this is how he does things, although tonight it seemed even a bit much even for him.
Atlanta had a couple of chances at goal, but Flash keeper Matt Hall made some good saves, and Atlanta midfielder Ihor Dotsenko also blew his chances. He looked pretty bad, and it was no surprise that he was subbed out at halftime. The Atlanta defense was led vocally by former San Diego Flash player Jason Annicchero. But there was no questioning his loyalty to his team this night, as he took and gave out many hard tackles against his former teammates. Also playing for Atlanta was former Flash keeper Kevin Rueda. He had the help of a good defense in front of him, but it was his mishandling of both cornerkicks in the second half that led to both San Diego goals. And on a positive note for Atlanta, forward Iggy Moleka was very impressive with his ability to get around Flash defenders, but unfortunately he didn't get the help he needed to convert that effort into goals.
San Diego had their good players too. Goalscorer Thiago Martins deserved to be the one to get his mane on the scoresheet. He ran both ends of the field, and showed a lot of hustle and work ethic that the crowd appreciated. Adam Maurer was also very effective in central defense, and together with P.J. Brown they were able to thwart just about all the Silverback attacks. The ones that got past Maurer and Brown were saved brilliantly by Flash keeper Matt Hall. And Miguel Suazo was the corner kick taker on both kicks that led to the goals. He put the ball almost right on the goal line, so the slightest error by the keeper would create an easy chance for a Flash forward, which is just what happened.
Still, a 2 goal lead is not impossible to overcome, especially now that the Flash have to go to Atlanta. Perhaps that's why Flash coach Derek Armstrong subbed in another forward with less than 10 minutes to go in the game, to try and get another goal and pad that lead. Sunday's game should be interesting. The Flash may decided to sit back and hold the two goal lead, but I think it's more likely that they will try to go and get at least one more goal to make sure they can advance. If the Flash are fortunate enough to make it past Atlanta, they would play Vancouver next, and would have to feel confident about their chances. Let's hope the best team wins on Sunday!
San Diego: Matt Hall, P.J. Brown, Adam Maurer, Brian O'Connor, Nate Hetherington, Kevin Legg, Carlos Calderson, Miguel Suazo, Chugger Adair, Javier Bustos (Hugo Alcaraz '60), Thiago Martins (Emmanuel Ayim '81).
Atlanta: Kevin Rueda, Shaun McSkimming, Jason Annicchero, Danny Care, Ian Checcio, Sean Michael Callahan, Carlos Parra (Sean Finn '70), Ihor Dotsenko (Randy Merkel '45), Eddie Rodriguez, Ryan Walker, Iggy Moleka.
San Diego '63 Thiago Martins (A-Miguel Suazo)
San Diego '72 Thiago Martins (A-Miguel Suazo)
Atlanta '5 McSkimming (Y)
Atlanta '36 Checcio (Y)
San Diego '43 O'Connor (Y)
Atlanta '54 Merkel (Y)
Atlanta '74 Callahan (Y)
Referee: Richard Heron
A: 375 (approximate)