Fabián, Stinson Shine Again in 8-7 Thriller Over Ambush
Empire battles back after seeing four-goal lead evaporate
Ontario, Calif. — Having held a four-goal lead in the third quarter of their clash with the visiting St. Louis Ambush on Sunday evening, the Empire Strykers found themselves down a goal with seconds left to play but battled back for a dramatic 8-7 overtime victory. The win sees the Southern Californians improve to 3-9-0 (wins/losses/overtime/shootout losses) on their Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) campaign.
Until Momo Gueye’s very late equalizer, the events of the fourth period were remarkably similar to those that transpired late in Thursday’s 6-7 loss at Tacoma. And as in the midweek clash, Marco Fabián and Justin Stinson shined with three-point performances. However, this time, Head Coach Paul Wright’s men were all smiles after the final whistle, Fabián having bagged the golden goal for a much-needed morale boost.
The visitors sent a warning shot Empire’s way early in the opening quarter. Making his first ever MASL start, 22-year-old goalkeeper Brian Orozco rushed off his line and produced an outstanding kick-save to deny wide-open Ambush forward Billy Stimac. However, Orozco was left without a chance moments later, as St. Louis’ Marcel Berry picked out VcMor Eligwe for an easy tap-in. The Strykers had a quality look at the other end, but Marco’s Fabián’s trademark right-footed bullet from outside the box was parried over by netminder Paulo Nascimento.
Empire wasted little time in drawing level inside the second quarter, Gueye converting a Stinson helper to make it 1-1. Visibly energized by the tally, the hosts continued to press and reaped the reward when Stinson released Gerardo Jurado on the left and the midfielder cut to his right before firing inside the near post for his side’s first lead. Recent Strykers signing Miguel Ponce subsequently picked a special way to score his first ever goal in professional indoor soccer. The former El Tri and Chivas de Guadalajara man positioned himself on the goal-line and nodded home Stinson’s pinpoint cross for a 3-1 Empire advantage.
The fans at Toyota Arena experienced a déjà vu when Strykers backstop Orozco produced another quality kick-save to deny the unmarked Stimac. Orozco would then find himself helpless on the Ambush’s next quality look, Richard Schmermund finishing from Ado Jahic to cut his team’s deficit to 3-2. Next came the game’s most spectacular netter, Fabián going airborne on the left for an acrobatic scissor-kick from well outside the area that forced Nascimento to make a save. As the rebound bounced off a St. Louis defender and trickled over the line, Fabián was credited with the goal for having produced the initial effort.
Alan Perez nearly had Empire’s fifth, but his shot across the face of the goal from the right came off the inside of the left upright for the narrowest of misses. The Strykers would not be denied moments later, Mijatovic tapping home from close range on a brilliantly executed breakaway that saw the Illinois native exchange several clever passes with Fabián to make it 5-2. It would be the final noteworthy action of the first half.
In the third period, the Strykers initially picked up where they had left off prior to intermission, Jurado finding the net courtesy of a nice give-and-go with Perez. St. Louis came agonizingly close to pulling one back when James Togbah released a dangerous drive from the right that came off the underside of the crossbar and then immediately off the left post. The Ambush did get its third of the contest not long thereafter, Eligwe picking out Jahic on the left and the 26-year-old squaring it to Lucas Almeida for a simple finish into the open net.
St. Louis continued to claw its way back, Empire staying true to its familiar problem of giving up goals in bunches in the third period of matches. After a wide-open Eligwe made it 6-4, Robert Kristo pounced on another letdown by the Strykers defense to pick out Togbah for his side’s third straight tally.
The Strykers found themselves on the backfoot for long stretches of the tense closing quarter. They finally created a pair of their own opportunities deep into the quarter. First, netminder Nascimento parried a wicked Stinson drive against the bar. Then, Mijatovic smashed a ball off the boards that was accidentally deflected by Berry in the center and bounced off the inside of the right post. That set the stage for the wild final stretch of regulation time.
For the second time in four days, Empire gave up a very late equalizer that involved attacking heroics by an opposition goalkeeper. This time, St. Louis icon Nascimento received the ball from Togbah and rifled an unstoppable shot into the net to make it 6-6. The parallels to Thursday’s fixture at Tacoma didn’t end there, as William Eskay streaked into the Strykers half with under a minute left to play and put the visitors on top. On Thursday, Kyle Rivers had scored a similar goal to give the Stars the lead with under two minutes left on the clock.
Determined to write a different story this time around, Empire opted for a sixth attacker and sent the home fans into a frenzy when Gueye leveled the score with under six seconds left in the fourth period. The Senegalese-American took a hopeful long-range shot from the left that skipped off the foot of Ambush defender Togbah and became impossible to stop for Nascimento. With the game tied at 7-7, the two sides headed into overtime.
The golden goal came courtesy of a smart give-and-go between Fabián and Mijatovic, which released the ex-Mexico star one-on-one with Nascimento. Fabián took no chances, driving a powerful shot into the net to secure the win for his team.
The Empire Strykers hope to make it consecutive victories when they host the high-flying Monterrey Flash on Sunday February 4. Tickets to the clash at Toyota Arena in Ontario are available here.