Eastern Conference Semifinals: A wild night in Ocean City

Barons, Piranhas both eliminated in high drama matches

The Hampton Roads Piranhas, the unbeaten favorite, and the Ocean City Barons, the host team, were both eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoffs on Friday night with two dramatic, and vastly different, results.

In the first semifinal, the Brooklyn Knights upset the unbeaten Piranhas 6-5 in penalty kicks after the match finished 1-1 in regulation. The man who scored the 89th minute equalizer for Hampton Roads, Nene Joseph, was also the man who had the deciding penalty kick saved. The shootout featured three saves, one re-take, and strangest of all -- a goalkeeper injuring himself while scoring a goal.

In the second game of the doubleheader, the Barons saw Byron Carmichael and Neil Holloway shown red cards in the 21st and 23rd minutes, leaving the host team down two men for the remainder of the match. The Men In Red would hold their own against a strong Cape Cod team, but eventually the Northeast Division champions were too much, thrashing the Barons 5-0 in a match rich with controversey.

Brooklyn and Cape Cod will square off for the third time this season, Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. for the Eastern Conference championship. The winner will advance to the national final four the following weekend.

Eastern Semifinal #1
Hampton Roads Piranhas 1:1 Brooklyn Knights
(Brooklyn wins on penalty kicks 6-5)

The unbeaten (14-0-2) Piranhas entered the match as favorites and the opening half would reflect that. While the Mid-Atlantic Division champions failed to create many chances in the first half, the majority of the play was held in the Brooklyn end. However, in the 45th minute, the game reached it’s turning point when Danny Dragoi dribbled into space near to the top of the 18-yard box. Instead of taking a shot, he faked, and then laid the ball off into the path of an oncoming Hemir Niebles who smacked the ball past Piranhas goalkeeper Evan Newton. It was an impressive goal, considering that Newton had only allowed three goals in 14 regular season games.

With a 1-0 lead heading into the halftime break, the momentum had swung Brooklyn’s way, and the second half showed that. The Knights controlled the majority of play in the second half until the final 20 minutes of the game where Brooklyn decided to focus on defense to protect the one-goal lead. The strategy worked until the final two minutes when Steve Danbusky took a throw-in in deep in Knights territory on the right wing. Danbusky’s long throw reached the box where Nane Joseph headed it into the box from about six yards out to tie the game at 1-1.

After both teams finished two 15-minute overtime periods without a goal, the game was to be decided at the penalty spot. It would be a battle between two goalkeepers who were solid throughout, with Steve Diaz making seven saves and Newton making three.

Newton stopped Brooklyn’s Andre Berenzen from scoring in the top half of the fourth round, and after the teams traded goals, it gave the Piranhas’ Brannon Thomas a chance to win it with a goal in the bottom half of the fifth round. However, Diaz came through in a big way, diving to his right to save the potential game-winning penalty kick. With the score tied at 4-4, Daniel Belke put Brooklyn up 5-4, but it was Newton who took matters into his own hands by stepping up to take the round five kick. He buried the ball into the top left corner of the net at a ferocious pace, but injured himself as he did it.

The ruling is that only a goalkeeper can be replaced in the penalty kick shootout due to injury, but the substitution can only take place if the team in question has an available sub left. Luckily for Hampton Roads, they did. After backup goalkeeper Ben Ashton allowed Matteo Cioffi’s goal to make it 6-5 Knights, it came down to Nene Joseph, the Piranhas’ hero from the 89th minute. He stepped up and fired his shot past Diaz, however, he didn’t wait for the whistle to begin, so had to attempt it again. The second time, Diaz reached out with his left hand to keep the ball out of the back of the net.

The loss by Hampton Roads in the conference semifinals, carries on the "unbeaten curse." Of the eight teams to ever finish the PDL regular season unbeaten, none of them have advanced beyond the conference finals. Brooklyn advances to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in club history.

Eastern Semifinal #2
Ocean City Barons 0:5 Cape Cod Crusaders

The drama in the second semifinal between Ocean City and Cape Cod began in the opening ten minutes. Barons defender, and general manager, Neil Holloway caught an elbow to the head that occurred out of the view of any of the officials. Holloway had to come out of the game, as blood was gushing down the side of his face from a deep cut right above his right eye. The Barons played a man down for the next five minutes as Holloway had the gash wrapped up by the Barons’ trainer Drew Breckenridge.

A few minutes after he returned to the game, in the 21st minute, Byron Carmichael dribbled into the Crusaders half of the field and was taken down with a hard tackle. The foul was called, but as Carmichael retrieved the ball to set up the free kick, the Crusaders player attempted to grab the ball. Carmichael pulled it away, knocking the opposing player to the ground. During the exchange, Mark Geiger, the center referee, believed that he saw the Barons’ leading scorer use an elbow to strike the other player, although video replay appeared to show otherwise. Nevertheless, Carmichael was shown a straight red card and was sent off.

Two minutes later, a very frustrated Barons team tried to regroup, but Holloway lost his cool, receiving a yellow card for a reckless tackle just outside his own penalty area. Seconds after receiving the card, Holloway mouthed off to the official, resulting in a second yellow card and an ejection from the game.

After exiting the game, Holloway was taken to a nearby hospital where he received 10 stitches for the cut above his eye.

Meanwhile, the game continued with the home side playing with nine men. They managed to hold their own until the 36th minute when Stanley Nyazamba found Edens Chery wide open in the penalty area on the left wing. Chery blasted home a shot from close range to make it 1-0.

Four minutes later, the Barons showed signs of life when Jeremy Ortiz sent Kyle Evans down the left wing. Evans made a run near the corner flag, made a move on his defender and dribbled down the end line toward goal. The Ocean City High School graduate was taken down on his way to the goal, and the referee awarded a penalty to the shorthanded Barons.

Jeremy Ortiz stepped up to take the penalty, but his shot down the middle was blocked by Cape Cod goalkeeper James Thorpe. Ortiz received a second chance as the rebound came right back to him, but he fired the shot just wide of the left post.

The Barons had survived the first half with nine men, and only a one goal deficit, but Cape Cod would eventually break the game open. In the 49th minute Chery would add a second, and then three minutes later, Andrew Wright would fire a shot from distance into the back of the net. Barely five minutes had passed when Jason Massie caught Edwards off his line, and chipped the ball over his head from about 50 yards out, prompting Massie to celebrate the 4-0 lead by throwing his jersey over his head and "airplaning" around the field. Massie would receive a yellow card for his efforts. Nyazamba would find more reason to celebrate when he added the fifth goal of the night in the 72nd minute when knifed through the depleted Barons defense and finished.

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