By Rob Shore
PORTLAND, Ore. – It was a first half that Kitsap Soccer Club would probably like to forget. But they followed it with a second half they might remember for a while.
Kitsap came back after letting in two goals in the first half, and Ryan Hill scored the match-winner three minutes into injury time in a stunning 3-2 victory over FCM Portland on Friday night.
The victory gave Kitsap four points on the season, two points shy of NPSL Northwest Division leaders PDX FC. OSA FC, which comes to Gordon Field next week, also has four points.
But it was a stunning six-point swing for FCM Portland, which could have joined PDX FC with six points at the top of the table.
The winning goal came after Jesus “Chuy” Sanchez had the ball in the right corner and beat his defender toward the baseline, getting just enough space to fire a cross toward the net. The cross found Hill at the far post, and he gratefully netted the winner.
“We just put the ball over the top to see what we could get,” Hill said. “Fortunately, we got the ball while I was in space. I got a good ball in to me, and I guess I slid and got lucky with the touch and found its way into the net.”
The victory came after a 1-1 draw against Spokane Shadow in its season opener left Kitsap with a bad taste in the players’ mouths.
But both the players and coaches insisted that there was no thought of chasing after a draw on Friday, even after going two goals down in the first half.
“At halftime, we didn’t ever talk about, ‘Let’s settle,’” associate head coach Liviu Bird said. “We talked about getting the first goal. Once you get the first goal, anything can happen.”
“Down 2-0, you can come back 2-2 and a lot of teams would be happy about it,” Sanchez said. “But I don’t think that’s the mentality that this team has.”
And it’s a game the club might talk about in the future. Because if Kitsap ever gets down early in the future, the team could point to the final 25 minutes of Friday night to show anything was possible.
“It’s massive,” Sanchez said. “At halftime, we could have left two games with only one point. Now, we’ve got four points, right where we want to be. In terms of momentum and the way the guys fought back, that’s a great sign of what’s to come for the team.”
The comeback started when Joe Harris scored for Kitsap in the 65th minute, connecting on a corner kick with a shot that deflected into the net. Then, Sanchez released Jorge Ruiz in on goal, and the University of San Francisco midfielder rippled the net with the equalizer in the 81st.
Suddenly, a game that had gone against Kitsap for much of the night was very much up in the air.
The first half was an ugly 45 minutes for Kitsap, which struggled to get good chances in front of the FCM net.
Meanwhile, it was everything Wheelwright could do to keep the ball out of his own goal. FCM had a first good chance in the ninth minute on a free kick with Wheelwright on his knees, out of position. But the ball fell to Voge, the Kitsap keeper somehow made a lunging stop of the ball.
FCM had another near miss three minutes later, when Luis Galeano headed a corner kick inches wide of the right post. For the moment, Kitsap felt pretty good about keeping FCM goals off the scoresheet.
Kitsap’s best chance of the first half came when Kazushiro Hamaguchi crossed to left back Mike Scharf, who found himself right in front of the FCM goal. But Scharf couldn’t get off a clean shot, and FCM keeper Dorian Javon Lair deflected the shot just enough to keep it in play and clear the ball without any harm.
FCM finally found the net in the 31st minute on a corner kick. Wheelwright kept out the first shot attempt from the corner, but Brody Yoge slotted the rebound past the Utah Valley man for a 1-0 lead.
They added to their advantage in the 39th minute. Galeano intercepted a dangerous Kitsap back pass and coolly fired it into the net to lead, 2-0.
It could have been worse. Galeano headed home a free kick by Ryo Asai in the 61st minute. But the FCM goal was disallowed for offsides.
As it turned out, that disallowed goal paved the way for Kitsap’s comeback.