Kickers Advance To D-2 Title Game.

The Richmond Kickers have advanced to their sixth league Championship appearance, hosting the Harrisburg City Islanders next Saturday, August 25th in the title match. A hard-fought 2-1 overtime victory in the semifinal against the Charlotte Eagles sealed the Kickers’ ticket into to the final around.

The Kickers took an early lead on a Matt Watson tally in the 14th minute and kept the advantage until an 87 minute equalizer by Eagles forward Dustin Swinehart pushed the game into overtime. Kickers forward Nowaf Jaman broke the stalemate in the 110th minute, netting the game-winner during the second overtime period.

The home team applied pressure early, creating dangerous scoring opportunities in the 3rd and 6th minutes. Kickers forward David Bulow busted through the Charlotte defense minutes into the match, ending up one on one with Eagles goalkeeper Terry Boss. Bulow attempted a muffled shot that was stifled by Boss who threw himself in the line of fire.

Not long after, Kickers midfielder Sascha Görres played a short corner to USL-2 Assist Leader Mike Burke. Under pressure, Burke sent the ball back to Görres, who flicked a curving ball overtop a scuffle in the box, finding defender Kelvin Jones in the air; however, Jones’ header collided with the near-side netting.

The Kickers took the lead in the 14th minute when an Eagles player carried along the end line and a poor clearance was intercepted by Bulow. Bulow played the ball back to Burke at the penalty spot but Boss made a one-handed block. The ricochet fell to Watson inside the six-yard box and he tapped it in for the first goal of the night.

Ten minute later, the Kickers attempted to double the score when Görres carried the ball down the left flank and sent a long, high cross to a streaking Watson at the opposite touchline. Watson settled the ball and played it back to Bulow at the top of the box but his 18-yard blast sailed inches over the woodwork.

The Eagles retaliated in the 30th minute when Swinehart eluded defenders as he closed in on Kickers goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale. He hammered a shot from the right side of the box but it flew inches over Pascale’s reaching fingertips and over the target.

As the halftime whistle loomed, Görres turned his man inside-out and ripped a 25 yard left-footer that whizzed past the near post and the diving ‘keeper.

Charlotte picked up momentum after the restart, making the initial attempt in the 54th minute. An Eagles corner was taken from the left side and the ball hurtled into the box finding Swinehart but his diving header narrowly escaped the mark. Not long after, midfielder Adam Ruud looked dangerous, minutes after entering the match. Slicing through the Kickers defense, he sent a missile just wide left.

An Eagles corner in the 83rd minute resulted in a hustle inside the box as several attempts were made to push the ball into the goal. A Swineart/Pascale collision left the Kickers netminder on the ground and a yellow card caution for Swinehart.

Swinehart answered back four minutes later, netting the equalizer in the 87th minute. Forward Jamal Sutton floated a long ball from the far side of the box to Swinehart who, inches from the far post, coolly slid the ball over the goal line.

The gritty affair was pushed into overtime, despite stoppage time opportunities to reclaim the lead including attempts by Jaman and Alexander as the final seconds of regulation waned. First, Jaman carried the ball down the center channel, dodging Eagles players and feeding the ball to Burke. Burke pushed it back wide to a flashing Jaman on the right flank who unleashed a powerful strike from 15 yards but it sailed well over the crossbar.

Lastly, Görres lined up a free kick that was cleared by Charlotte. The rebound found midfielder Trey Alexander who one-timed a 30-yard laser, destined to shatter the stalemate but Boss was able to get a hand on it to push it wide right, keeping the Eagles in the game.

Two 15-minute periods ensued, played in their entirety with the first phase providing opportunities on both sides of the pitch. First, the Kickers took possession when Görres calmly carried the ball down the field and composedly slipped it to forward Ricky Schramm at the penalty area but his strike was smothered by Boss and deflected wide by Schramm looking for a rebound.

Four minutes later, Swinehart appeared dangerous again, this time curling the ball into the box from the right side. USL2 Scoring Champion Jacob Coggins laid the ball off to Sutton. Quick on his feet, Sutton’s right footed shot rifled the side netting.

The stalemate was lifted minutes before the outcome was to be decided by penalty kicks when the Kickers recovered the lead in the 110th minute. Görres took a short corner to Schramm at the near post who played it back to Görres. Beating two defenders, he hammered the ball across the crowded goalmouth. Jaman was able to get a piece of the ball, flicking it over the Eagles goalkeeper and breaking the plane, despite the efforts of defenders positioned inside the goal.

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