NEWPORT NEWS - Last season, Lionsbridge FC finished the USL League Two season with a dominant regular season record, only to be upset early at home by Vermont Green FC. They were determined to make sure their names were in the running for the whole thing this year, and after defeating Ocean City Nor'Easters in the Eastern Conference Final, they've accomplished that.
For the third time in four Conference Final matches, the two sides went to extra time as the final whistle didn't blow until 1:38 AM. In this battle of attrition, it was Lionsbridge FC that came away with the Eastern Conference Final victory, and will advance to play The Villages SC for a spot in the League Two Final.
At the start of the match, it looked like Lionsbridge would spend the 90 minutes all out of sorts. Two mistakes at the back in the first 20 minutes: One failed clearance, and one dispossession, spelled trouble for the hosts early. Just as they did in the previous round against NC Fusion, Ocean City Nor'Easters were hounding and harassing the Lionsbridge box for much of the first half.
For the rest of the 90, though, Lionsbridge found their footing and replaced fatigue with adrenaline. They scored twice in the span of three minutes: In the 31st, mounting pressure led to a corner, headed home by Adam Kirkwood to cut the lead in half. The goal in the 34th minute, however, was a long range laser from Christian Hatley that left the Nor'Easters defense with no chance to stop it. At that point, any advantage that had been gained due to previous Lionsbridge carelessness was gone, and the match was on.
Tied with a pair of goals each at halftime, there was everything to play for in the second 45. For both clubs, there was also everything to lose, should they concede a goal. Neither club committed many bodies forward, and any chances for both squads were fleeting up until the final whistle in regulation.
Headed to extra time level at 2 goals each, both sides had to muster whatever strength they had left for the extra half hour, kicking off at around 1 AM local time. On a corner kick early in the period, it was captain Sam Hall rising up to score the go-ahead goal that would eventually be the winner. Finding the extra pieces of determination, they put the matter to rest entirely when a perfectly executed counter attack in the 111th minute was slotted home by Celestin Blondel. Scoring a fourth unanswered goal, Lionsbridge put the matter to rest as they held onto their lead for the final nine minutes of the match.
They'll advance to face The Villages SC on Saturday for a spot in the USL League Two Final.
OCN: Veltri 6'
OCN: LBR OG 17'
LBR: Kirkwood 31'
LBR: Hatley 34'
LBR: Hall 85'
LBR: Blondel 111'