Lane United FC continued its streak of three games without a point by losing 2-1 to the Washington Crossfire in a match that they would have won comfortably, if soccer were a just game. On a high school football field in Redmond, in front of no more than two dozen home supporters, Lane United oozed quality from about the tenth minute onward, linking up all over the field, launching menacing-looking attacks, and rarely allowing their opponents to string more than a few passes together. But when the final whistle blew, the Crossfire had claimed victory thanks to two goals that were essentially tap-ins, while the Reds were left to wonder how they had failed to net more than one goal, way back in the 29th minute, from all of their good attacking play.
With standout forward Khiry Shelton likely gone for the rest of the season, head coach John Galas trotted out a different formation than his usual 4-3-3, choosing instead a 4-1-3-1-1, with Conner Bevans as the out-and-out striker and Martin Lukaschik behind him in a “number nine and a half” role. To say that Lukaschik thrived there would be an understatement. He scored Lane United’s only goal of the game by trailing a Bevans breakaway and absolutely lashing home the striker’s cross first-time. Three other times in the first half, he found loads of space to shoot from around the top of the box; two were saved, one spectacularly, by the Crossfire’s very astute goalkeeper Tyler Visten, and one blazed just over the bar off his left foot. He also picked out, or was inches away from picking out, Bevans sprinting through the center of the Washington defense on at least five other occasions. Lane United’s best chance to equalize once they’d fallen behind 2-1 in the second half also featured Lukaschik, this time pulling strings with Josep Baldoví and eventually finding the Spaniard on the right side of the box, 16 yards from goal, only to see him shoot a foot too high.
Lane United’s overwhelming superiority in the midfield, with Pancho Vizcaino and Mikel Selles complementing Lukaschik and Baldo, meant that the Crossfire often gave away possession before even having a chance to test the Reds’ back line. When they did, though, it looked shaky. The best chance of the first 20 minutes fell to Hamza Haddadi, the Crossfire striker, when he somehow found himself utterly unmarked at the penalty spot but couldn’t head Cesar Rocha’s cross from the left on target. Of course no one knew it then, but this was an alarmingly exact foreshadow of the game-winning goal in the 67th minute. In that one, Sean Russel, the left fullback, had time to play in an inswinging cross to the spot of his choice, which turned out to be about ten yards from goal. Again, Haddadi was somehow completely alone and this time he headed it comfortably past the goalkeeper Chris Lowrimore, who had tried to come off his line at the last second and interfere once he noticed the seriousness of the situation.
The Crossfire’s opening goal also came to them remarkably easily. In the 25th minute, Haddadi knocked over Brenden Anderson from behind on the left wing to dispossess him in what looked like an obvious foul—Galas said after the game there was “no question” it was a foul, although it went unwhistled by referee Chuck Spaniola—and then raced in toward the goal, playing it across the face for Matt Poplawski to tap in at the back post. That score opened the proverbial floodgates in the opposite direction, with Lukaschik scoring his thumping goal four minutes later and Lane United looking certain to score on every wave of attack they threw forward until halftime. The Crossfire escaped to the break with the score still at 1-1, then survived several more Lane United attacks in the first 20 minutes of the second half. Lukaschik got a decent shot off after close-range passing in the penalty box, only to have Visten save it, then Conner Bevans turned and prodded the ball off the crossbar from 15 yards after Christian Dietrich had sliced in from the right wing and fed him a crisp pass.
A minute later, Bevans was substituted for Pierce Kiembi, and a minute after that, the Crossfire got their winner through Haddadi. The final 20 minutes were more frantic and unstructured than before, with Lane United eventually opting for more direct long balls into the Crossfire box and, for the last ten minutes, the Crossfire not even pretending to try to play out of their defensive end, only booting clearances as high and wide as possible. Galas said afterwards that his team “hadn’t done enough to win. We were certainly in control of the match, but we keep shooting ourselves in the foot with mental lapses that cost us points.” It was an uncompromising assessment, but one that fits with one of the central dicta of soccer: it doesn’t matter how well anyone can play if they fail to make the most of their chances. The team will stay in the Seattle area until Friday evening’s match against the Sounders FC U23, which Galas characterized as a “must-win” and a chance to make amends after two heart-wrenching losses in a row.