With a little more than three minutes left in overtime, Seth Goldberg’s goal in traffic propelled the Philadelphia Barrage to their seventh win of the season, their second against the Pride, Thursday night in New Jersey. The win keeps Philly safely in the third playoff spot, and it ensures the Pride will end the season with a losing record.
The game was technically a home game for the Barrage, though scheduling conflicts moved it to the Pride’s Yurcak Field in Piscataway N.J. Like the last contest between New Jersey and Philadelphia, this game was televised on ESPN2.
There was an instant air of familiarity to this game as these teams met just two weeks ago, that game also in Jersey. But early on it was made clear this would not be another comfortable win for Philly.
Kyle Harrison drew first blood with a blistering two-point take on the run. Conor Ford added a nice rip of his own when he got the ball and no slide came to greet him.
Goldberg scored Philly’s first goal of the day, one very similar to their last goal, his game-winner. Fed by Michael Springer, Goldberg made a nice cut through the middle and scored in traffic. Springer then found Roy Colsey a step inside the arc for their second goal. The consistent veteran Matt Striebel tied the game with a fundamentally perfect bounce-shot on the run.
Adam Doneger grabbed the lead back for Jersey with some smart fundamental play of his own. Usually a time and room shooter, Doneger got a pass, began to wind up for a shot, then threw two nice face dodges to work himself in closer and score from about five yards out instead of 15. Jersey then strung together two more goals to build the largest lead either team had all day.
First, some quick passing skipped the ball from Greg Peyser, across the top to Conor Ford, then inside to Joe Yevoli, who threw two nice fakes and tucked the ball under Barrage keeper Brian Dougherty. Then Scotty Urick scored working his way across the middle and through three weak slides. But a hold call gave Philly possession with a few seconds left in the half. Defenseman Kyle Sweeney alertly grabbed the ball on the restart, pushed it up field and hit Tim Byrnes for the score with just 3.9 ticks left on the clock. The half ended with New Jersey enjoying a 6-4 lead.
The Barrage came out firing in the third quarter, grabbing early possessions and taking some solid shots. Springer scored 44 seconds in on a bounce shot from the wing. Then Colsey tied it with another cannon shot from near the arc. But Philly caught a bad hop when Jesse Hubbard found Urick, who took a shot that rattled the pipe, then ricocheted off Dougherty’s leg and into the net.
But Philly got it right back on a play that seemed too obvious for the Jersey defense to miss. Springer sat with the ball at X, looking at a cutting Kevin Cassese. Once Cassese found the seam, Springer nailed him with a great feed and all Cassese had to do was finish from about three yards out.
As both squads began to grow more tired in the second half, both teams looked to press numbers more often. Pushing the ball on a fastbreak, Matt Zash hit Springer, who scored on a jump shot, right as Doneger came through to finish him with a hit. The goal gave the Barrage their first lead of the game at 8-7.
The lead did not last long though. New Jersey showed off their outside shooting prowess with another two-point take. Harrison began to maneuver for a drive from the top, then skipped the ball across his face to Matt Rewkowski, who absolutely blasted a shot past Dougherty from about two steps behind the line. With that New Jersey took a 9-8 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Pride made it a two-goal lead when Greg Peyser scored off a Yevoli assist. It would be their last lead of the game.
Philly rattled off three straight goals and began to look like they were taking over the game. First Andy Corno won a face off, scooped up the ball, and ran right down the heart of the Pride defense, scoring on a bouncer from five yards out when no one decided to cover him. Corno had a great day at the face off X, winning 19 of 24 for the Barrage, many by getting Jersey face off man Chris Colliniates to jump early. His performance garnered him Bud Light MVP honors.
Two more unassisted goals, one by Ryan Boyle on a nice inside roll, and another by Jed Prossner on a jump shot, left Philly with an 11-10 lead with 11:18 left to play. But a fortuitous bounce let Jersey right back in. Rewkowski, working on the wing, rolled on his man and got off a bouncer that was traveling just wide of the far post. But Yevoli, hanging around the middle, was knocked to his knees, a perfect height to now slap the errant shot into the goal right before Dougherty could get there, tying the game with five minutes left.
Those five minutes saw some tense moments, including an arguable slashing call on Springer that afforded the Pride a man-up opportunity. Both goalies protected their teams making some sharp saves. With less than two minutes left, Pride goalie Rob Scherr made a phenomenal save on Boyle as he got inside and dove at the crease. But as the final seconds wore down, neither team found the back of the net, ensuing overtime.
The pace of overtime was identical to that of the latter stages of the second half. After both teams called timeouts and attempted to run more methodical offenses, the game saw both teams trying to push, hoping for the advantage that could leverage them the win. Both teams also fell victim to some sloppy field conditions as a pregame rain shower left the natural grass field quite slick, a problem that became a pandemic in the overtime period. Players that had been sure footed all game were continually slipping as they attempted to drive or slide, resulting in a lot of loose balls and lost possessions.
The Barrage were able to keep their footing long enough to secure a much-needed victory. With 3:16 left, Cassese initiated what looked like a slow break up field for Philly. As he carried, he saw Goldberg fighting for space in the hole. Cassese zipped him a pass. Goldberg threw a few fakes, laid out, and slipped the ball past Scherr, ending the game with a sudden death victory for the Barrage.
The win was hugely important for Philadelphia. Now they are very much masters of their own fate. Sitting at 7-3, they keep pace with division leading Rochester (8-2), and remain two games in the win column ahead of Denver (5-4) and Washington (5-5), for the final two wildcard playoff spots.
Philly’s last two games of the season come against the Bayhawks. Simply splitting the contests would almost insure the Barrage a chance to defend their title in Rochester. The road there will start next Saturday in Washington.
Such a close loss becomes that much more heartbreaking for New Jersey because it insures they can end the season no better than 5-7, another losing campaign. The Pride have consistently been an underachieving team for the past few season. Except for perhaps some highly improbable and convoluted circumstances, the Pride are virtually eliminated from postseason contention. They’ll finish out their home games against the Rochester Rattlers next Saturday.
With the playoff crunch on, the final two weeks of the 2007 MLL season could see some dramatic games, surprising spoilers, and intricate tiebreakers determining who earns a spot in the elusive four that get to experience late August in Rochester, NY.