Kickers Lose Title 8-7 On PKS.
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.
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.
Harrisburg went up 1-0 just before halftime on a goal by Ombiji.
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.
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.
As Harrisburg began to substitute, Matt 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 Michael 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.
After overtime, the 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