UTICA, NY - In a do-or-die playoff game, Utica City FC played host to the Milwaukee Wave. After an 11-8 loss in the first game of the best-of-three series, UCFC needed a win to tie the series and send it to the knockout game. After a thrilling Game 2 won by the home side (4-3), Utica was just short in the knockout game (2-1).
The game started with intensity on both ends. Milwaukee got the first chance, with Andrew Coughlin saving a shot by Derek Huffman. Coughlin came up with another save, sliding down to deny Luan Oliveira. Two minutes later, “Mr. Stretch” would stand tall again with a double save on the Wave’s Alex Sanchez and Qudus Lawal. Utica would go on a breakaway with 6:35 left in the first quarter as Taylor Walter Bond found himself running free. His shot was saved by William Banahene, continuing the stalemate.
Banahene would produce another extraordinary save just a minute later, flying high to save Cesar Correa’s shot. The netminders kept on providing saves, as with 1:06 left in the first, Coughlin saved a shot from Ben Ramin. With stellar performances from both goalkeepers, the first period would end deadlocked at 0-0.6
The second quarter continued the defensive battle, with both squads compact at the back. With 6:06 left in the first half, it was Cristhian Segura who broke the deadlock. Playing the ball off of the wall, he turned around and launched a side volley into the net for the first goal of the contest. With 2:48 left in the half, Utica’s lead would double. Segura would turn from goalscorer to provider, lofting a free kick to the corner of the box that Gordy Gurson would scissor kick past Banahene. The score would sit at 2-0 heading into halftime.
The second half would begin like the first, with both teams staying strong in the back. Coughlin would save a shot from Lawal at the 2:52 mark in the third. Just a couple of minutes later, Taylor Walter Bond would latch onto a rebound and power a shot home to make the score 3-0 Utica. After the Bond goal, the game would once again settle into a defensive battle, with UCFC aiming to limit mistakes and hold possession. Milwaukee would end Utica’s shutout hopes with a goal 12:08 into the third. Ramin found himself free and tapped in a cross from Javier Steinwascher to put the Wave on the board. That goal would be the last action of the third, with the score sitting at 3-1.
Both teams continued the fourth quarter on the defensive, looking for counterattacks to create chances. Milwaukee would capitalize on their first good chance of the quarter, as Huffman powered a shot past Coughlin with 6:12 left in regulation. Milwaukee would equalize with 4:14 left in regulation, with Marcio Leite finding space and firing one home. The game began to open up, as both teams searched for the winner.
For Utica, it was the first goalscorer Segura who made a statement. With just 93 seconds left in the game, Segura hit a one-time laser to the bottom corner that left Banahene rooted to his spot. That strike made the score 4-3, which held on until the final horn sounded.
With the series now tied at 1-1, UCFC geared up for the 15-minute knockout game. Two minutes into the game, Steven Fernandez found a bouncing ball in the box and struck it home, putting Utica up 1-0 with 12:45 to go. Milwaukee would find an answer with 11:42 left in the game, as Ian Bennet pushed a shot through the Utica defense that deflected off of defenders and went in. The Wave would add another just 41 seconds later, with Shawn Azcueta finding the back of the net.
After taking the lead, Milwaukee was content to defend, holding off any Utica attack. Banahene and Coughlin continued to make saves, holding the score at 2-1 in favor of the Wave. With 2:52 left in the game and still down by one, UCFC decided to bring in the extra attacker Segura. Unfortunately for Utica, they would not be able to find the equalizer and the Milwaukee Wave would win the knockout game 2-1, ending Utica’s season.