The Milwaukee Rampage held off the desperation attack of the Nashville Metros for 89 minutes in front of 2,152 fans at the Milwaukee County Sports Complex Saturday, but a lapse in the game's closing seconds earned the visitors 30 more minutes of life.
However, the Rampage was not beaten again in the overtime and proceeded to a penalty kick tiebreaker with the aggregate score tied 3-3. Milwaukee outscored Nashville 4-2 in penalty kicks to advance to the A-League Quarterfinals and a matchup with the Regular Season Champion Richmond Kickers.
Entering the match with a 3-2 advantage in the two-leg aggregate goals series, Milwau-kee needed only a draw to knock out Nashville. But those hopes faded when Jeff Houser converted on a header from close range on a disputed throw-in late in stoppage time to open the scoring in the match.
For the second time in the two-game series, the Metros had scored a crucial goal in stoppage time, this time forcing overtime, where the next goalscorer would send his side on to the next round.
Just as they had in regulation time, the Metros produced more quality chances, but as the 30-minute session dwindled away, both Igor Soso and David Hayes of the Rampage created quality opportunities, but were denied.
Neither team could find a golden-goal to advance in the overtime, sending the game to the penalty-kick tiebreaker. The Rampage entered the tiebreaker with a sour taste in their mouths after being eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup tournament this summer by the San Jose Earthquakes in penalty kicks.
After each team's first shooter missed his respective first round chance, Milwaukee's Soso, Hayes, Steve Butcher and Mike Slivinski converted, while Dan Popik saved the fourth-round attempt by Houser to help the team avenge the Open Cup heartbreaker.
More importantly, the Rampage move on to the league's final eight. Milwaukee will play host to Richmond at the MCSC in the first leg of the series on Friday, Sept. 28 at 4:00 p.m. CT, with the second leg taking place at the Univ. of Richmond City Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 30 at 4:00 CT. That game can be heard live on AM-1250, WEMP.
Nashville had a great opportunity to win the series just six minutes into overtime when Jakob Fenger, who finished third in league scoring during the regular season, found himself wide open with the ball at the edge of the penalty area. He ripped a shot at Popik, who dove and knocked the ball away to keep the series alive.
Popik faced 19 Metros shots in the game and was credited with six saves. The most critical coming in the shootout when he stretched to his right to save Houser's effort. Slivinski came up next for Milwaukee and clinched the series with a blast past Nashville 'keeper Cole Burgman.
The Rampage had a few opportunities to put the series away in regulation time, the best coming late in regulation when the team's leading scorer, Digital Takawira came in on Burgman on a breakaway in the 83rd minute. After dribbing past Burgman at the top of the box, the 'keeper recovered to smother the ball and take down the Rampage forward in the process.
Milwaukee has never met the Kickers in a regular season or playoff match in its eight-year history. Both teams have won championships, with the Rampage claiming the 1997 A-League National Championship and Richmond doing the "double" in 1995 when they were the Premier League champs and also became the first United Soccer Leagues side to win the Open Cup.
The Kickers won the regular season title by compiling a 16-7-3 record and 76 points in the A-League's Central Conference. They were led in scoring by Kevin Jeffrey, who tied for sixth in the league with 29 points on 11 goals and seven assists. Forward Josh Henderson was 15th in league scoring with 23 points on 10 goals and three assists.
Goalkeeper Mike McGinty finished just ahead of Popik in the league at sixth with a goals-against average of 1.21. He was 14-5-3 with five shutouts. Popik finished behind him with a 1.27 GAA.
Saturday's win also keeps Rampage Account Executive Chris Kokalis up on the roof at the MCSC. Kokalis is determined to live on the rooftop until the Rampage sells 5,000 tickets for a playoff game or raises $5,000 for the Salvation Army's disaster relief effort. The team is donating $1 from every ticket sold to the Salvation Army.
All playoff tickets for Friday's game go on sale Monday for $10 each. Season ticket holders can purchase tickets for $9 apiece.
NASHVILLE METROS 1
MILWAUKEE RAMPAGE 0
(Milwaukee wins 4-2 on penalty kicks)
Nashville Houser (Morman) 90
Penalty Kick Summary:
Rampage - Bernal (saved), Soso (goal), Hayes (goal), Butcher (goal), Slivinski (goal).
Nashville - Schell (high), Fenger (goal), Maier (goal), Houser (saved).
Nashville - Cole Burgman; Chris Morman, James Wall, Steve Kraemer, Carl Schmitt (Dominic Schell 61); Gabe Valencia (Jeff Houser 71), Jaymi Bailey, Jeff Dominguez, Andraes Maier; Brandon Wright, Jakob Fenger.
Rampage -Dan Popik; Destin Makumbu (Dennis Fadeski 119), Matt Bobo (Josh Pro-van 73), Judah Cooks; Bato Radoncic (Mike Slivinski 70), Igor Soso, David Hayes, Ja-son Russell, Philipe Godoy; Steve Butcher, Digital Takawira (Scott Dombrowski 89, Steve Bernal 91).
Statistics: Shots Saves Fouls Offsides CKs
Nashville 19 3 34 3 10
Rampage 14 6 25 2 5
Nashville - Dominguez 27, Fenger 84, Maier 93, Houser 98.
Rampage - Bobo 28, Godoy 72, Makumbu 93, Provan 98, Cooks 99.