Having gone the first 6 matches of the season without scoring, Flower City Union has really come along nicely of late. Last match, they lost to Club de Lyon after giving up three early goals, however they came back with two of their own and made a game of it. The game prior to that, they faced Savannah Clovers and won 2-0. This time, they were playing away to Savannah, who would certainly want to avenge that loss. On the line for the match was 7th place, as a Flower City Union win would place them level on points with Gold Star FC Detroit (although Detroit would have the tiebreaker, soFCU would technically remain in 8th).
The two most noticeable changes to the match were one on each side. For Savannah, a side that’s been leaking goals with a -20 goal differential, they brought in a new keeper, Jack Crichton. This seemed to be worrying from an FCU point of view, as he has goalkeeping in his blood, with his father being a former Premier League keeper and goalkeeping coach. On the FCU side of things, Malik Stewart had been playing great recently, but did not make the trip due to the death of his father. After having a delay of approximately 70 minutes due to rain and lightning, FCU and Savannah played a game of back and forth soccer. Through the opening minutes, no one seemed to dominate or really have that many chances. It seemed like there might be problems for FCU as 10 minutes in, starter Frederick Opoku was substituted out due to injury.
Logan Lee, the substitute who took Opoku’s place, and Oscar Sanchez, had a very good game. They had a lot of pace, and were a force in the midfield, distributing it nicely all game. This was most noticeable 18 minutes in when Lee showed his pace to take the ball from FCU’s end, around the final defender, only to lose it on his last touch, but won a corner kick. The corner kick Lee won was FCU’s first real attempt of the match, but nothing came of their corner. Later when Sanchez lost the ball to the Clovers, he put his body on the line into winning it back. Neither team had had much attack from open play, but set pieces were defended well by both teams. One of Savannah’s players was a master of the long throw, so even throw-ins had to be defended as corner kicks would be.
The first real chance for either team came from Savannah near the half hour mark. FCU goalkeeper Michael Mejia was unable to keep control of a corner kick, but it was cleared away by the defender. It was brought back into the FCU zone, and Mejia had to come way out of the box to grab a ball that was almost picked off by the Savannah attacker. He had to dribble the ball back into his box to regain control of the play. After some poor keeping last game, this was a return to the good play we’ve become used to by him.
Flower City Union finally broke through in the 33rd minute to go up 1-0, mainly in part to some great touches by Stephen Elias. In FCU’s zone, he took the ball around a couple defenders and lobbed it long towards the Clovers goal. The ball bounced above the keeper who had come out. It’s unclear whether it was headed over the keeper by attacker Alioune Diakhate or the defender, but either way Diakhate easily picked it up 15 yards out and escorted it into the goal. The first half was an even contest, with a goalkeeping error on both sides. FCU punished Crichton for his error, while Mejia recovered from his to keep a clean sheet.
Savanna Clovers came out strongest in the second half. The opening minutes were a combination of possession, corner kicks, and long throw-ins into the FCU box. While they’ve lost a lot of games, one of the most consistent parts of FCU’s play has been their defending, and they kept Savannah from getting many attempts with this possession. On the counter attack, Matt Bolduc had his first real chance of the match, where he took a long pass into the Clovers box, however he was too deep and the goalkeeper cut off the angle, leaving his shot going into the outside of the net.
Most of the second half was unnoteworthy. Continuing on from the ref’s performance in the first half, there were a lot of soft calls and yellow cards (the two cards to Clovers in the first half were barely even fouls) which led to a game that got more physical and testy as time went on. The game was finally put to bed by a definitive performance by Luke Ferreira. In the 81st minute, a long goal kick was sent to Dylan Ruiz, in his first appearance for the team. He won the ball and slid it through the defenders to Luke Ferreira making a run. Ferreira stalled for a second so the defender would overrun him, and then put it in the far corner past the diving keeper. Barely 5 minutes later, in the 86th minute, Stephen Elias had the ball along the right side line. He sent a beautiful pass to the far side post, where Ferreira was waiting to head it in. It was Luke’s goal, but it was Stephen’s perfect pass that made it possible.
The final 20 minutes of the match were very physical, and the match ended with a lot of pushing and arguing. It was understandable that Savannah was frustrated, and Flower City was standing up for themselves. My one worry about the match was Mejia arguing after the final whistle and having to be escorted off the field by a teammate. It’s great that he’s passionate, but this is not the first time I’ve seen him fired up like this after the final whistle. FCU cannot afford him to get a red card for stupid fighting after a game is over.
The story of tonight was Savannah Clovers’ corner kicks and long throw-ins, and Flower City Union’s great defense. Were Savannah better at where they put these, or FCU poorer in their defense, the game could have gone the other way. As it was though, they defended well, and the early goal along with Ferreira’s brace made the game a comfortable win. Flower City Union has previously had a brace in the NISA Independent Cup (6/25/22 by Suneil Veerakone) and in the US Open Cup (4/4/23 by Stephen Elias), but this was the first time a player has scored 2 goals in regular season play. It took a while for Flower City Union’s offense to get going, but their season is finally starting to improve. It was a good team performance, but Ferreira’s play of late and his two late goals to put the game to bed made him the standout of the match.
Flower City Union returns to play on Sunday July 23rd as Salt City Union. They will play Upstate United FC of the USPL in the NISA Independent Cup in Auburn.