by Pete Richmire

Utica, NY - In front of a packed, energized, and hope-filled crowd, Utica City FC opened their 2023 Ron Newman Cup Playoff campaign against the #5 seeded Kansas City Comets. In a tightly contested battle, it took overtime for Utica to prevail over KC by a score of 7-6.
Utica started the game quickly, carrying on the momentum from the last game. Bo Jelovac found himself with a clear opportunity just 27 seconds into the game, but fired a shot straight into the palms of Nicolau Neto. A minute later, Kansas City found itself down a man as Leo Gibson was carded for tripping. Even down a man, the Comets pressed hard and Rian Marques scored, only for the goal to be called back for a foul committed on Stefan Mijatovic in the build-up. In the same short-handed situation, Marques found himself free in the box again and made no mistake with this one, rifling a shot into the roof of the net. With no foul called on this play, Kansas City took a 1-0 lead at the 3:19 mark in the first quarter.  
After the Marques goal, both teams settled into the game. With 5:38 left in the first quarter the Comets would get an opportunity with a shot from Mads Falck, but Utica keeper Andrew Coughlin got down to his left to make the save. However, Kansas City would keep up the pressure, and with 3:14 left in the first quarter Marques would roll his second goal of the day after getting past Mijatovic and passing the ball under a sliding Coughlin. The first quarter would end with the Comets holding a 2-0 advantage. 
UCFC came out firing in the second quarter as a shot from Issak Somow forced Neto into a one-handed save. The Comets responded well, as Falck latched onto a volley that produced a great stretching save from Coughlin. Kansas City would then gain a free kick at the top of the box and Ray Lee would launch the ball around the wall and straight to the back of the net for a 3-0 lead only 2 minutes and 19 seconds into the quarter. On the Comets’s next offensive possession, Coughlin would make a point-blank save to deny KC’s Ramone Palmer.
Utica would get their first goal with 6:20 left in the first half. After a block on a set piece, Taylor Walter Bond played a spinning pass to Jelovac who made no mistake from close range. After curling the shot into the top left corner, the score sat 3-1 in favor of the Comets. UCFC would then get another goal just 2 minutes later, with Cristhian Segura beating Neto with a near-post strike and bringing the Utica crowd back to life. 
With 2:55 remaining in the second quarter, Coughlin would then produce another great save, as “Mr. Stretch” would get down to his left for another diving save. Utica would then tie the game up, with Segura capitalizing on an errant pass from Kansas City. After going down 3-0, UCFC had scored 3 unanswered to tie the game at 3-3. 
Things would get heated with 1 minute remaining, as contact from both sides led to players confronting one another. The refs would head to a review and issue offsetting blue cards to Somow and Neto. Then, with 31 seconds left, Kansas City’s Palmer would hit a one-time shot past off of the pass from Lee to make it 4-3. That would be the score heading into half, with both teams having 3-goal runs in the first half. 
Coming out of the half, both teams would have to kill off 57 seconds of penalty time. The Comets offense tried to add to their lead, with shots from Palmer, Marques, and Zach Reget all being stopped by Coughlin. KC would eventually find an opening in the Utica defense, with Gibson finishing in the bottom left corner off of a pass from Falck to make it 5-3. UCFC would get an answer right away, as Juan Alava hit a laser to the top left to make the score 5-4 with 9:17 left to play in the 3rd. 
The game would again head to a defensive stalemate, with no clear chances coming until 1:33 left in the quarter when Coughlin produced another leg save on a shot by Falck. Coughlin would stand tall again with 15 seconds left, producing another stunning save down to his left. Those two saves would be the final action of the third quarter, with the score sitting at 5-4 Kansas City heading to the fourth. 
With Utica needing a goal in the fourth to tie things up, it was Stefan Mijatovic who put in a shot that took a tip off of a Comets defender and tied the game at 5-5 with 10:15 left in regulation. Three minutes later, it would be the first lead of the game for UCFC as a Gordy Gurson cross went off the wall and all the way to the back post, where Quenton Swift was able to punch it home. The Comets would tie it right back up, with Falck catching his own rebound on the volley and slamming one home. With five minutes left to go in the single-elimination play-in game, it was tied up 6-6. That score would hold all the way until the buzzer sounded, which meant that extra soccer was in store. 
In the overtime period, it was a storybook ending for Segura, who took a pass from Mijatovic on a set piece, danced his way around three Kansas City defenders, and poked one home to seal his hat-trick and win the game for Utica. 
UCFC will take on the East Division #1 seed Milwaukee Wave in the Conference Semifinals, with the Best-of-3 series taking place next weekend. Game 1 will be away on Thursday, April 13 at 7:05 PM ET and Game 2 will take place in Utica on Sunday, April 16 at 2 PM ET. If a Game 3 is needed, it will take place directly after Game 2. Tickets are available at ucfctickets.com.