Certainly if one were to ask anyone in the Rocket City United organization at the end of 89 minutes of yesterday's match against Chattanooga FC if they would be happy with a 1:1 draw, they would have replied affirmatively. However, after being awarded a highly questionable penalty kick in the 3rd minute of second half stoppage time, RCU had the chance to steal all three points. RCU were left thinking of what could have been when ChatFC goalkeeper Richard Masters guessed correctly and denied Freddy Okello's penalty attempt on the last kick of the match.
RCU (3-2-1) continues to sit atop the NPSL Southeast Region alone with 10 points from 6 matches. Perhaps more importantly, RCU controls its own destiny in its quest to win the Southeast Region title. Two wins in its remaining league matches will see them on their way to the NPSL playoffs and a chance to play in the NPSL Final Four in Madison, Wisconsin.
The record crowd of 2,140 saw a battle on the field where the gametime temperatures were as hot as the tempers of the players who saw inconsistent refereeing mar the contest. In the 22nd minute, Jason Sabio, who recently returned from international duty in the Phillipines, sent a searching ball that found Okello in stride. Okello niftily backheeled a square ball that fed Rafa Barbosa into the area. Barbosa's well placed shot found home and RCU led 1:0. The goal was a mirror image of the Barbosa to Okello backheel pass that saw Okello on his way to his first goal of his hat trick against Pumas FC a week earlier.
ChatFC (2-2-1) responded with fervor sending two shots off the woodwork before Irvin Espinal one-timed a Mark Beattie cross off Tyler Early's outstretched mitt and into the RCU goal in the 41st minute. ChatFC dominated the second half only to have the looming target man Omar Cooke squander multiple opportunities.
Despite the obvious physical play of both sides, it was RCU center back Joseph Omondi who was sent of in the 67th minute for a second bookable offense. Shortly thereafter, RCU Technical Director Greg Petersen was sent off for dissent.
With the man advantage, ChatFC pressed for the go ahead goal, but good goalkeeping by Tyler Early combined with poor finishing conspired to keep the game even at a goal a piece. In an attempt to sure up the defense, Derek Pirtle entered for Rafa Barbosa in the game's waning moments. Deep into stoppage time, Norbert Webley delivered a free kick into the ChatFC penalty area. The referee, who had let all manner of physical shennanigans continue throughout the match, whistled what both sides concede was a trifling call. With Barbosa, their normal PK taker having just been removed, Okello stepped up to take the kick from the mark. Perhaps the soccer gods recognized that there was something rotten in the call, as Masters dove left to stone the attempt and the match ended in a 1:1 draw.
Note: After the match concluded, an unidentified Chattanooga FC official physically confronted RCU midfielder Paul Willoughby. It is not known if there will be disciplinary repercussions from the league.