After the long and hard soccer season nears its conclusion, only two sides now remain in contention for the 2013 USL PRO title and only 90 minutes stand between them and the silverware they crave to hold aloft.
Orlando City SC and Charlotte Eagles will lock horns next Saturday, September 7, 2013 in a bid to become the champions of the season and emerge as the best club side in what is classed as division 3 soccer in the U.S. Soccer pyramid.
Previous meetings this season have the Florida side edging proceedings with a narrow 1-0 victory in August and a 1-1 draw early in the season but season long stats will show more consistency from the Lions as they missed the regular season trophy by just the one point to Richmond Kickers.
Charlotte may have disposed of the Kickers in Saturday night’s matchup but over the term of the season, they finished four spots behind the team they face next weekend and 13 points adrift. This however will not hinder the Eagles as they look to become the only side in the playoffs to have gone through all rounds to reach the final whilst playing their matches on the road.
Overcoming Harrisburg 3-1 in the quarterfinals and Richmond 2-1 in the semi-finals is good form as they look to head to Orlando's Florida Citrus Bowl for the final. Orlando on the other hand played out both quarterfinal and semi-finals at their home stadium, emerging as winners in both games that involved five goals to enthral the huge crowds. Firstly, Pittsburgh fell by the wayside 5-0 before Friday night’s narrow 3-2 win over Charleston saw they take their place in the final.
With Charlotte winning their semi-final against regular season winners Richmond Kickers 2-1, the venue for the final was set in place and it seems fitting that Orlando, with the largest supporter base and following in the USL PRO leagues, would host the final, guaranteeing a 10k plus crowd for the final match of the season and USL showpiece game.
Friday night’s match between Orlando and Charleston couldn't have started better for the home side as they found themselves 3-0 up on their opponents after only 19 minutes and these early goals seemed to have knocked the stuffing out of the Battery. The visitors struck back in the second half though with a couple of goals from Azira and Sanyang that made both Orlando very uncomfortable and Charleston confident at the same time.
The Lions held out though and along with the near 9'000 fans inside the Florida Citrus Bowl found themselves with the final spot they so desired only awaiting the outcome of Saturdays game between the Kickers and Eagles to decide their opponents and venue for where they would play the final match.
Richmond came into Saturday’s games against Charlotte much the favourites after capturing the regular season title and like Orlando in regular season play, they edged the Eagles with a previous 1-0 win and a 3-3 tie early in the season.
In this match though, the Eagles were determined to put those stats aside and prove they were worthy of the final spot after having to do things the hard way with firstly quarter-final road trips, then semi-final road trips and hopefully a final road trip on their quest to the title.
Three first half goals were enough to separate the two sides at City Stadium in Richmond, VA and it was the home side to strike first on 12 minutes with a header on target from Callahan. Charlotte didn't wait long to strike back though and equalized through Christian Ramirez on 31 minutes, again with a headed goal. Nate Thornton was to grab the winner just six minutes later with a low drive to give his side the 2-1 victory.
With the Charlotte victory, hosting rights for the final went to Orlando as number 2 seed in the playoffs and the Florida Citrus Bowl will be jumping with excitement at the thought of the match that will take place Saturday September 7, 2013 with a 7.30pm kick off.
It's perhaps a fitting end to the season that has seen Orlando dominate for most of the regular season play; What with crowds double the average of their nearest rival, the USL administrators will be a happy with a season end showstopper in front of possibly the largest league crowd of the season.
Orlando 3 Charleston 2
Richmond 1 Charlotte 2
Saturday September 7, 2013
Florida Citrus Bowl, 7.30pm kick off
Orlando City v Charlotte Eagles