PORTSMOUTH, NH - It was expected to be a heated, physical match much like the other four times these two teams have met this season. First place MPS Portland has already clinched a playoff spot. Coming into Sunday’s game, the Phantoms needed a win to overtake 2nd place in the division, currently held by Western Mass Pioneers who sit 2 points ahead of Seacoast. The top two teams after regular season play advance to a divisional playoff.
The crowd of 400 at a bleacher-less Portsmouth High School were not disappointed on a beautiful summer afternoon. For the opening 15 minutes, players battled for position and possession with the majority of the game taking place in the middle 1/3 of the field due to stingy defenses on both ends. The Phantoms had the two best chances in the first half, both coming from midfielder Eric Masi. In the 18th minute defender Ryan Dunn served a cross in from the left hand flank to the far side of the 6 yard box. Masi attemped an acrobatic bicycle kick that hit the crossbar. In the 33rd minute, midfielder Steven Palumbo served a ball across the field to Mike Adam running along the left side, who played it back to Masi in front of the net for a side volley hit for a reaction save waist high at MPS keeper Andrew Murphy.
MPS attempted more of a direct style of play in the first half, serving long balls in to their sprinting strikers. Jordan Thomas and Brad Hilton saw the majority of the service but were able to deny any opportunities for the Phoenix.
HALFTIME: Seacoast United Phantoms 0-0 MPS Portland Phoenix
View photos from today's match here.
Seacoast United looked to create more options as they entered the 2nd half, getting players forward in utilizing the weak side. Head coach Iain Scott preached patience overall, and pressure on their opponent in the middle of the field.
The Phantoms were first to strike, and did so in the 52nd minute. A ball flicked in from Palumbo on right hand side for a header just outside the back post went blocked, then after a couple of deflections and a save by the MPS keeper, McLarney found space to hammer the loose ball home for the 1-0 lead.
Less than 2 minutes later, Jesse Schram sent McLarney in again from the left on what looked to be another quality chance, but the shot was blocked by the defender. In the 61st minute, Masi left the ball off for striker Chris Tsonis walking in for a blast on goal, only to be called offside.
On their 4th substitution of the 2nd half MPS made a change to play 3 in the back, allowing for another player to get forward on the right flank, but the Phantoms defense gave them nothing. Phantoms outside back Brad Hilton shut down MPS throughout the game, and made a great play to block a dangerous shot in the 77th minute as he threw his body in front of the ball.
MPS did everything to continue pushing forward, sending large numbers up in an attempt to find the equalizer. Even with the high numbers pressing on their defense, the Phantoms were able to put together the better attacking sequences in transition.
In the last strong effort from MPS, midfielder Andrew Rigby sent a low cross sailing just over the bar with 5 minutes remaining in the game.
The back four of Hilton, Jordan Thomas, James Goodwin, and Ryan Dunn were solid and played very well for the Phantoms. Midfielder Jesse Schram played great in the center of the field on both sides of the ball.
Leaving the field after today’s game, Head Coach Iain Scott noted, "We’ve done nothing yet. Yes, we won this one but the big game is Tuesday night."
With today’s victory, the Phantoms advance to the divisional playoffs for the first time since 2004. The Seacoast United Phantoms will again face MPS Portland Phoenix in a single elimination match scheduled for Tuesday night at Deering Field in Portland Maine, kickoff at 8:15pm. MPS Portland Phoenix hold the season series advantage 3-2, outscoring the Phantoms 7-5 in those five games. Follow the Seacoast United Phantoms online at www.seacoastunited.org/phantoms.