Salt City Union took to the road to head to Auburn for a match in the NISA Independent Cup against Upstate United FC. The NISA Independent Cup is a chance they have to win some silverware, as its format favors the NISA clubs. Each NISA team competed against the winner of a round-robin between three minor league amateur teams. In this case, the UPSL team Upstate United FC from Syracuse emerged as the winner and played a one-game contest for the Independent Cup trophy. The UPSL is a nationwide amateur league of over 400 teams, playing in regional divisions. This year, Upstate United ended up 4th in their division of 5 teams, so Salt City’s prospects should have been high. Coach Jordan Sullivan must have felt confident, as the line-up was mostly a complete change from the norm, with a lot of usual backups starting.
Playing on a baseball diamond led to a most unusual start to a match. It would seem like the first baseline should have been the goal line, but instead, the field is offset at a strange angle. Only two minutes in, this angle led to confusion as the Upstate player thought the ball went out of bounds and picked it up, even though it was still in play because the goal line was behind that. After nearly two minutes of arguing with the referee, the ref correctly determined it should have been a handball and awarded a penalty kick. Malik Stewart stepped to the spot, and the resulting penalty kick was saved by the keeper, and the rebound was put over the goal.
Most of the opening ten minutes had gone Salt City’s way, but that changed in the 11th minute. Upstate got a 2-on-1 and sent it past the final defender, to easily put it in the back of the net behind Trevor Wilson.
Neither team really controlled play through the first third of the match, besides the opening goal. The closest either team came in that period was in the 29th minute when the ball was taken to the Upstate touchline and passed across the center, only for Stewart to slam it off the crossbar. The rest of the half was back and forth without either team really dominating. In stoppage time another great chance came for Salt City, but the Upstate keeper barely touched it to put it over the net. The resulting corner kick bounced back and forth in the box before it ended up at the keeper without being too dangerous. A free kick, a corner kick, and a header into the keeper’s hands didn’t trouble Upstate too much, and the half ended with Salt City Union down 1-0 to an amateur team.
Salt City Union surprisingly didn’t start the second half with any changes, and it only got worse for them almost immediately. Around 3 minutes into the half, an Upstate player took the ball into the box, and passed the ball past Wilson’s diving hand, for his teammate to usher it into the net off his body, putting Upstate up 2-0 almost immediately. Things went from bad to worse in the 55th when Upstate had a free kick from near the midway line. The ball soared to keeper Wilson, but while he caught it, he had backed too far into his goal. While he argued he had kept it out, it was deemed a goal.
After going down by 3 goals, multiple substitutions by Salt City almost instantly made an impact. Putting starters Stephen Elias, Alioune Diakhate, and Luke Ferreira in led to immediate pressure in the offense. It paid off quickly, with a goal in the 58th for Angelo Calfo off of a corner kick. The substitutions paid dividends again in the 63rd minute as they passed the ball between nearly every player, before sending it to Noah Cavanaugh who slammed it past the outstretched arms of the Upstate keeper from 20 yards out.
It was relentless pressure by Salt City the entire second half. The 78th minute had me literally say out loud “How did he not put that in”. After a free kick, some bouncing around, and a header, the keeper came down with the ball on the line. The 80th minute saw another close call, as Stewart took the ball on a turn and kicked it out of the air, only to hit the post. They finally broke through the Upstate defense in the 83rd minute. Another corner kick was sent into the box by Elias and found the head of a Salt City teammate. The ball was sent to Stephen Elias who had reached the back post and headed it into the back of the net. The Upstate coach took offense at something, as he was yelling and swearing and had to be physically dragged off the field to leave, receiving a red card.
The entire second half was all Salt City Union and all free/corner kicks. The long-time-coming winning goal finally came in the 88th minute, off another Salt City set piece that ended up at Malik Stewart for the 4th goal. It was the first-ever comeback in the Union’s history. Not only had the Union never won a game from a losing position, they’d never even come back to salvage a draw.
The interesting thing about this game is that the way it began, starting a team of mostly reserves definitely wasn’t the right call. However, playing against a lower-division amateur team, it was good to give a start to some players that haven’t found the minutes this season. Goals 2 and 3 came so quickly that you really can’t fault Coach Sullivan for not making the substitutions to turn the game around. In the end, it made for a much more exciting game. And that’s the catch-22 of choosing a team that doesn’t normally start. Having scored 4 goals to get a comeback, if the game began with the usual starters it could have been an unfair 8-0 game where you just feel bad for the amateur side. In the end, I think choosing the reserves was the right call to give a look to some people who don’t play as often, especially since it was turned around when the pressure was on. It was a thrilling night in Auburn, and I hope the fans that showed up enjoyed it. If anything can win over a casual fan stopping by to see a random game, it was a game like that.
*On a side note, the coach who was thrown out ended up in the stands over near me. It was hard to understand all his ranting, but he claimed his red card was for telling the referee the player was offsides, and he was then thrown out because the refs are paid to be “Upstate hating cheaters”. So, that was interesting.