For their third game home game in a row: it was a new name, a new look, and a new home. For the first time this season, Flower City Union took the field as Salt City Union at their second home, Falcon Park in Auburn, NY. Prior to the game, their new jerseys were shown for the first time. They may just be a glorified training top, but the blue looks really nice on the field, and stands out against both the pitch and the opposing white jerseys. After having started 0-4, and yet to score a goal in league play, any change has to be a positive, so maybe the new look for the night would be the thing that got those changes going. Finally, they faced someone that wasn’t in the top two positions in the league. LA Force came into this game sitting in 4th place, with 2 wins, but also with 4 losses.
I’ll get the obvious out of the way: playing on a baseball field is distracting. SCU played in the outfield, seemingly to avoid the pitching mound. The different looks of the artificial “dirt” infield is also a bit weird, and the fact that the first base line was not used as the goal line made it more difficult to watch. Hopefully the on field players could keep their orientation.
It was not the ideal start for SCU. In the opening minutes, LA Force had 3 corner kicks in a row, thankfully nothing came of them. However, when they finally did have possession back, Luke Ferreira made a strong challenge, which seemed clean, but was issued a yellow card after only 6 minutes.
SCU’s first real chance of the game came in the 14th minute, as Noah Cavanaugh hustled his ass off to get to the ball before it went out of bounds. He sent it right into the box for one of their better chances of the season. Unfortunately, an LA Force defender blocked it off the line. Another great chance came two minutes later, as Alioune Diakhate received the ball and an advantage was played. He sent a nice cross to the opposite side of the box, where Oscar Sanchez headed the ball just wide.
Aside from the plays I mentioned, the opening half hour was a mostly unremarkable affair. There were a couple SCU attempts, a large amount of LA Force corners, and most of the play was back and forth through the middle of the park. That changed in the 32nd minute though. SCU had a free kick that was cleared away. LA Force took the ball down field, with no SCU defenders back it was an easy goal as it was 3 attackers with the keeper to beat. LA Force were not a dominant team, but they were definitely the better team. For Salt City it was the same issue they’ve had all year: they get a little close to the goal, but have trouble even getting a shot off, much less putting it on target.
The opening two minutes of the second half saw SCU’s best opportunities all season. A shot by Ferreira looked like it had hit the top corner, but it actually landed on top of the net, just high. Less than a minute later, a header by Diakhate was put just over the bar as well. LA Force punished SCU for their misses though, as they put in their second goal of the night less than 3 minutes after the restart.
It took going down 2 goals to spring some life into SCU. The 54th minute saw what may have been their first real, solid shot on target for a few games. They received a foul 20 yards from the LA Force goal. The resulting free kick was sent perfectly to the top corner, where the LA keeper sent it out. Some sustained play in the LA box with Cavanaugh being completely wiped out with what appeared to be a clear penalty, but the ref ignored everyone’s pleas. A couple minutes later the questionable refereeing continued, as a long ball was played down the sideline to Matt Bolduc. He gave a tiny push to the LA Force defender, but not enough to warrant a foul, stopping what was amounting to a nice opportunity. It went both ways as well, as right after an LA Force player barely fouled an SCU player, and was strangely shown a yellow card for it.
The 64th minute finally, finally, saw the end of Salt City Union’s goal drought. SCU lined up for a corner kick, and I silently complained at the players because not one of them was in the 6 yard box, even though there were 5 defenders there. It didn’t matter though, as defender Kyle Nelson jumped the highest, and headed the ball down and into the net. The LA Force keeper took exception to something which happened, and was shown a yellow card for dissent. It didn’t matter because the goal stood, and SCU had finally lifted that weight off their shoulders.
By the 75th minute, the referee had completely lost control of the game. Any strong play from either side was called a foul, there was a long stoppage where he talked to both captains after not calling multiple fouls, then finally starting play for a seemingly contested drop ball. A yellow card was issued to John Requejo when he got the ball on a strong challenge. After all those questionable calls, it was a corner kick by LA Force that involved nothing questionable for the third goal; which put any chance of a Salt City comeback out of reach.
Tonight’s loss was the one that worries me for City Union’s season. Whereas the prior losses could all be blamed on the fact that the teams were the ones at the top of the table, tonight’s match was the first one where we were given a fair shot. The referees was quite terrible, but thankfully it was in ways that affected both teams, aside from the shout for a penalty, so it didn’t affect the 3-1 outcome. While they did finally get their first goal of the season, LA was definitely the better team on the night, and it didn’t help that Salt City was playing their back-up keeper. The first hurdle of scoring a goal has been crossed, however it’s going to be a long season if they can’t get more consistent with their defense and goalkeeping.
Falcon Park, Auburn, NY
65, clear, sun-setting