OTTAWA – It’s not as though the drama of overtime was needed Sunday as the two hottest teams in the NASL met at TD Place Stadium with a berth in the championship on the line.
Unfortunately for Minnesota United FC, the second-seeded Ottawa Fury escaped with a 2-1 victory. A goal by Tom Heinemann in the 108th minute, his second of the game, proved to be the difference as the Fury, which has only one loss in its past 26 games, will travel to New York and play the Cosmos for the title Sunday.
The third-seeded Loons handed the Fury that one loss, 2-1 in August.
“I thought it was a great night for soccer,” United coach Manny Lagos said Sunday.
“Obviously two good teams and it really became a match of physical, mental and technical. It hurts because we had our really good moments but we couldn’t put the ball in the net when we needed to.”
All started well for United as Christian Ramirez opened the scoring on a penalty kick in the seventh minute after being taken down in the box.
“We came in here with the right mind-set and the right game plan, but credit to them, they played the game they played all year basically,” Ramirez said of the Fury.
“They believed in it. We got a little bit unlucky but what a show for the fans. It was unbelievable.”
United couldn’t capitalize on that momentum, though, as the Fury controlled the play for the rest of the half and only trailed because of the solid goalkeeping from Sammy Ndjock.
“He did a great job in terms of command of the net. But I thought there were moments where we were a little lax mentally in a way we hadn’t been a lot of times this year, and he made sure even though we were, we still looked solid,” Lagos said.
Heinemann leveled the score in the 47th minute, and the Fury nearly went up 2-1 just minutes later but a shot from Andrew Wiedeman from in close beat Ndjock but bounced off the right post.
“To dominate a first half like we did and not come out on top was frustrating, but we stuck to our game plan. The dynamic inside that dressing room is special. We’ve got one more,” Heinemann said.
The game also drew a record announced crowd for the postseason at 9,346, beating the previous mark of 7,847 set by the San Antonio Scorpions in last season’s championship game.
The crowd barely drew a breath in the final minutes of extra time with United pressing. J.C. Banks was robbed twice in the waning moments by Fury FC goalie Romuald Peiser, first off a header in tight and then seconds later with a diving stop on the post.
“There was some amazing stuff where you thought the ball would be hitting the back of the net but we couldn’t score,” Lagos said.
“That’s soccer. It’s a game of inches and it’s hard for our guys to swallow.”