Lane United Ties Washington Crossfire 1-1 on the Road
Lane United FC drew the Washington Crossfire 1-1 in Redmond, WA on Tuesday night in a match that never strayed far from excitement, for the right and the wrong reasons from a Lane United standpoint. The Reds scored in the third minute through Riggs Lennon but by halftime had only the gods to thank that the Crossfire did not convert one of their dozen or so chances to equalize. When Michael Bajza was harshly sent off for two bookable offenses in quick succession in the 41st minute, the second-half task became clearer—sit back and repel Crossfire attacks, and it nearly worked, but for Junior Sanchez’s excellently taken goal in the 68th minute. Stoppage time featured another red card, for a horror tackle by the Crossfire’s Nathan Aune on Daley Stevens, and then gilt-edged chances at each end as both teams threw caution to the wind in search of a winner. The beleaguered referee Seth Martin’s final whistle blew after a match-saving slide tackle from Daley Stevens to deny a Crossfire breakaway, and the result leaves both clubs still tied for third in the PDL Northwest Division, the Reds with a game in hand.
The match had barely sputtered into life before Lennon gave Lane United an early advantage; he had already thrown himself in front of a clearance by the Crossfire goalkeeper, Saif Kerawala, and deflected the ball into touch, but that was apparently not enough warning to the Crossfire back line, as he pressured the center-half Aune into a poor backpass in the next passage of play. The recent Creighton transfer latched onto it and with minimum fuss slotted it under the keeper for an early 1-0 lead. However, the Reds proceeded to play the next half-hour in a state of unprecedented disorganization, with massive gaps appearing all over midfield, possession only in fleeting moments, and the back line unable to handle the tremendous pace of the Crossfire forward Simon Lekressner and left winger J.T. Townsend. Those two created—and squandered—a handful of chances apiece over the remainder of the half, frequently missing the target or occasionally forcing Lane United’s Ben Willis into an easier save than ought to have been required. Willis did produce one moment of goalkeeping brilliance, though, denying Danny Gavin at full stretch on a free kick from 22 yards, which was about five yards advanced from where the initial foul, from Michael Bajza had taken place. That foul earned him his first, and thoroughly deserved, yellow card, but the second one, which came only a few minutes later, was considerably harsher. The referee, Martin, felt that Bazja’s high-footed nick of a Crossfire player was worthy of a second booking, but given the mild force and speed of the challenge, as well as the fact that it was only fractionally late and 50 yards from goal, it was not clear that it deserved a second caution. It was almost a carbon-copy of events from last year in this fixture, when the Reds’ Jordan Jones was sent off, also late in the first half, for two back-to-back yellow cards; in that match, Lane United collapsed and shipped three goals in the second half, but this year the response from the Reds was significantly more mature.
The Reds came out for the second half with Armando Filho and Isma Fernández having been replaced by Dillon Nino and Jose Carlos Terron, respectively, to create an overtly defensive 4-4-1 formation, with only Ricky Lopez-Espin in an advanced role. The move paid off for awhile, too, with the Crossfire’s chances mostly limited to long shots that did not remotely trouble Willis in goal. In the 65th minute, though, the defense was broken open by the Crossfire fullback Junior Sanchez beating his counterpart Akeem Ward down the left wing and firing just over the bar from a good position on the left side of the box. And Sanchez was more clinical three minutes later, placing a low 25-yard shot in the minuscule window between Willis’ sprawling hand and the left-hand post; it was an equalizer born from the only bit of quality finishing that the Crossfire displayed all match.
The status quo, with the Reds holding the Crossfire at arm’s length well away from goal, was maintained for the next quarter of an hour but with five minutes left to play the balance suddenly shifted. The 86th minute saw Lane United’s first effort on goal in the entire second half, a harmless wide shot by Stevens, but the floodgates opened right afterward. With the Crossfire suddenly at sea, Riggs Lennon slammed a low volley from 18 yards to force a diving save out of Kerawala, then Stevens was scythed down by Aune flying in at full speed, legs extended and studs showing—the type of tackle that results in grisly injuries if the tackler happens to connect. That challenge earned the Crossfire man a straight red card, and from the ensuing free kick, Lennon was inches away from scoring the PDL goal of the season, slamming a 35-yard effort left-footed off the upper 90 of the goalframe. The Reds had chances to put away the rebound, but the ball was eventually cleared, and only a minute later Joel Rydstrand beat several defenders on the dribble before playing in Lennon—only for his close-range shot to be denied by a desperate sliding block from the last Crossfire defender. A goalmouth scramble ensued, which led to a corner; from Lennon’s first delivery, Reds players shouted in vain for a handball when a Crossfire defender awkwardly played the ball out over the goal line, leading to a second corner. From that delivery, someone on Lane United was whistled for jumping to head the ball in the vicinity of Kerawala, and that generous call almost gave Washington the game: Kerawala took the free kick quickly, and with all the Reds within 40 yards of the opposing penalty box, a Crossfire forward was onside at the halfway line. On his last legs, he charged forward toward the retreating Ben Willis, but Daley Stevens, recovering from at least 70 yards away deep in second half stoppage time, produced the tackle of the season to slide in and clear the ball into touch just as the forward was reaching the penalty box. It was the last meaningful action of the game.
Head coach John Galas said afterwards that he is “not sure why we can never end a match 11v11 against the Crossfire. I think our boys are disappointed with the result, but to play down a player for over 45 minutes was always going to be tough. I’m certainly pleased with the effort, the organization and commitment from the whole group tonight. We had to adjust tactically after the sending off, replacing Filho and Fernández, which was tough, but at the end of the day the changes we made played a big part in us almost stealing 3 points tonight. We have to stay positive, stay united and committed to the cause as we prepare for Kitsap. We still have a fighting chance to make the playoffs and we are without question going to give everything we have next match to keep the dream alive.” With FC Tucson looking increasingly likely to wrap up the automatic bye in the Western Conference playoffs, the Reds face a two-game road trip, at Kitsap Pumas on July 9 and Victoria Highlanders on July 11, and the last match of the regular season hosting the Crossfire at home, at Papé Field, on July 15, needing victories in all three to keep playoff hopes alive. With the way the PDL NW Division has unfolded thus far, nothing would be surprising. Stay tuned.