Photo: Courtesy of the Harrisburg City Islanders
The Harrisburg City Islanders’ playoff run came to an early end with a 3-1 loss to the Charlotte Eagles in front of some 1,124 fans at Skyline Sports Complex on Saturday afternoon.
After a scoreless first half, Charlotte capitalized on two free kick opportunities to take what proved to be an insurmountable lead.
In the 51st minute, referee Eric Weisbrod judged City Islanders goalkeeper Nick Noble picking up a trapped ball by defender Coady Andrews’ at the edge of the six yard box to have been an illegal back pass. Harrisburg’s efforts at constructing an impenetrable wall came to naught when Charlotte’s Christian Ramirez tapped the indirect free kick to Jorge Herrera, who blasted through to find the back of the net.
After the game, City Islanders’ head coach Bill Becher said of the referee’s decision, “It’s a game changer. You don’t see that [illegal passback] call made. Hate to make any kind of excuses or anything, but that’s a call that shouldn’t have been made and that changes the game. I thought we were in pretty good shape, we were on top of the game and we were taking it to them at the beginning of the second half, but he makes that call and I don’t see any reason why he makes that call. Their players afterward were saying that he shouldn’t have made that call. We’ve had this guy three times and it seems like he wants to do something to be the star of the show.”
Charlotte head coach Mark Steffens agreed with Becher that it was a harsh decision from the referee. ” The call is actually correct, but you have to be able to say the player deliberately played it directly to the keeper with his feet. It looked like it bounced off his knee or shin, but I definitely wouldn’t have made that call in that situation. It was a tough call, but I thought you had two good teams battle against each other. Sometimes the bounces go your way and we were fortunate today.”
In the 81st minute, a Charlotte breakaway ended with Harrisburg’s Stephen Basso being shown his second yellow card of the game. In the ensuing free kick, Herrera struck from just beyond the left side of the penalty area with a far post shot to make it 2-0 to the visitors.
Down two goals with only minutes remaining in the match and reduced to ten men, the City Islanders refused to give up, and in the 85th minute, Lucky Mkosana intercepted a pass to make it 2-1.
A Harrisburg counterattack in the 90th minute nearly saw the two sides level when Sainey Touray cut back the ball to Mkosana, whose effort was deflected off of a Charlotte defender.
Charlotte would tally again in the final minute of stoppage time to confirm their ticket to a semifinal meeting with Orlando City on Aug. 30.
Former Philadelphia Union man Morgan Langley said after the game, “Today was as tough as it gets. You’d like to leave the season knowing that we put everything on the table and that’s what we did. But one thing went the wrong way and all of a sudden we’re sitting out the rest of the year.”
The City Islanders finished in fourth place in the regular season, improving on their sixth place finish in 2012. Still, Becher, understood his players disappointment. “Losing to a good team is one thing, but losing that way will sting a lot longer for these guys.”
Among those feeling the sting were four Union players on loan to Harrisburg. Greg Jordan going the full 90, was joined by Jimmy McLaughlin, who came on in the 80th minute. Christhian Hernandez, who has been sidelined with a recent injury, and Don Anding, remained on the bench.