Boys in Gold crash out of US Open Cup in Louisville

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Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Nashville SC didn’t necessarily come out flat in Lynn Stadium Wednesday evening – they fired 15 shots to the hosts’ 12 and controlled 55.2% of possession – but the quality in the final third just wasn’t there as they fell to Louisville City FC by a 2-1 score. Paco Craig scored for Louisville in the 24th minute, and Paolo DelPiccolo added another in the 58th, and while Matt LaGrassa got Nashville on the board in with just over 20 minutes in regulation, Nashville couldn’t find the equalizer.

Thus ends the club’s US Open Cup run, with Louisville advancing to the quarterfinals, where they’re slated to take on MLS side Chicago Fire July 18.

“I don’t understand on a one-off occasion, with the run we are on, why we just wouldn’t go and feel more confident about ourselves,” said Nashville head coach Gary Smith. “We were too slow to get into our rhythm. Saying that, they were certainly the better team in the first half and we were the better team in the second half. We had enough chances to not only take that game into overtime, but to possibly have won it. I think with how the game unfolded, a draw was a fair result, but unfortunately it was not to be.”

LaGrassa earned the surprise start after a couple weaker performances in USL play, and vindicated the choice by heading home a London Woodberry cross to give his team hope after digging into a 2-0 hole. While Nashville buzzed the net in the second half, they were unable to find the back of it.

Ropapa Mensah missed an open net moments after hitting the frame when the score was just 1-0, and six shots after LaGrassa closed the margin back to 2-1 all were unable to trouble Louisville backup keeper Tim Dobrowolsi.

“We have been on a good streak and all good streaks have to come to an end at some point, but you hope it comes in a game where things didn’t go your way,” LaGrassa said. “It wasn’t our best performance to start the game. We started too slow. It came back to bite us.”

Louisville will be this year’s USL darling in the US Open Cup (fellow league side Sacramento Republic fell to LAFC on the road Wednesday night, and all seven remaining teams outside of Louisville are MLS sides), while Nashville will have an opportunity to take a step back from cup competition and focus on USL play.

The team current sits fourth in the USL’s Eastern Conference, and takes on No. 6 Indy Eleven Tuesday in the friendly confines of First Tennessee Park. A victory could push Nashville as high as second in the conference, with a game in-hand on No. 1 FC Cincinnati.

Match events

  • 24′ LOU GOAL – 5 Paco Craig (right foot), assist to 19 Oscar Jimenez
  • 35′ LOU Yellow card – 36 Paolo DelPiccolo (foul)
  • 45’+2 Half time
  • 52′ – LOU Yellow card – 10 Brian Ownby (foul)
  • 58′ LOU GOAL – 36 Paolo DelPiccolo (left foot)
  • 62′ NSH Substitutions – On 23 Taylor Washington, off 2 Justin Davis. On 32 Brandon Allen, off 3 Ropapa Mensah.
  • 65′ NSH Substitution – On 19 Alan Winn, off 11 Ish Jome
  • 66′ LOU Substitution – On 21 Shaun Francis, off 19 Oscar Jimenez
  • 68′ NSH GOAL – 20 Matt LaGrassa (headed), assist to 28 London Woodberry
  • 76′ LOU Substitution – On 7 Magnus Rasmussen, off 10 Brian Ownby
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Preview: Nashville SC @ Louisville City FC 2018 – US Open Cup

Nashville SC has split its two games with Louisville City to date… but the home team took each one. Can the Boys in Gold break the streak and win in Derby City?

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Less of this in the third matchup. Thanks.

The essentials

Opponent: Louisville City FC
Performance: 7-2-3 USL East, 17 GF, 10 GA, 2nd the conference. 1st in USL East Power Projection, 9th in USL power ratings. Fifth round US Open Cup, 9-2 GD in three games. 3-0-2 last five games all competitions.
The Line: Louisville City +112, Draw +229, Nashville SC +234
Time, Location: 7:00 p.m. EDT (6:00 Central)  • Lynn Stadium, Louisville, Ky.
Event: US Open Cup Fifth Round.
Weather: 81ºF, 34% chance of rain, 76% humidity, 9 MPH WSW winds
Watch: In person! Or stream on USSoccer.com. Roadies are hosting a watch party at Pastime.
Follow: @NashvilleSC, @ClubCountryUSA, USL gametracker page, @LouCityFC, #USOC2018
Elsewhere: MLSSoccer.com with a (mini) preview. Orlando City previews the round. Nashville SC feature from the USL, and some really good insight into the strategy on both touchlines. This awesome feature from US Soccer:

Louisville City FC

This is a really good team, but as was the case the last time Nashville played them (they only dressed six subs!), they’re really banged up. Further complicating matters when it comes to the US Open Cup, the international slot rules have made for an even more limited LCFC roster:

“For example, second-string goalkeeper Tim Dobrowolski has started each tournament match because leaving first-stringer Greg Ranjitsingh (a Trinidad and Tobago international) off the roster opens up a slot,” said Danielle Lerner of the Louisville Courier-Journal. “The injuries have certainly also taken a toll, so I would expect Wednesday’s lineup to look different, particularly up top, than both past Open Cup games and USL games.”

Luke Spencer and Cameron Lancaster – the former of whom you may recognize as the first goal-scorer in a Nashville SC game, way back in March – are out with injury. Louisville has been light on centerbacks for much of the season after the opening several games. So what will we see in terms of a lineup?

“I have a hunch James O’Connor will try to recreate the same lineup he used in the New England game,” Lerner opined. “Louisville City could feasibly field a nearly identical lineup just by replacing Lancaster with Ilic.”

That would be pretty close to Louisville’s strongest available lineup, minus Ranjitsingh and the two primary strikers (though it’s worth noting that Ilja Ilic has comfortably outscored the much-injured Spencer 4-1 so far this year, albeit in nearly twice as many minutes. That’s right, Spencer’s only goal came in the opener against Nashville). They used it to knock of an MLS side, so that’s nothing to sneeze at, even if the injury situation would typically have us casting the side-eye.

The other thing fans remember from that Louisville City loss? A pretty crappy pitch in Louisville. We won’t see that become a factor here, because the game’s at a different venue anyway: LCFC has hosted US Open Cup games at University of Louisville’s Lynn Stadium, a 5,300-seater about ten minutes south of Slugger.

“Some might say they have an advantage at Slugger Field over visiting teams who aren’t familiar with the turf/grass mixture, but I’m not sure there’s truth to that,” Lerner said.

Nashville fans would disagree!

“Attendance for the weeknight Open Cup games at Lynn has been so-so but increasing every match,” she continued. “The smaller venue also makes it feel fuller and the atmosphere for the New England game felt very rowdy.”

A couple dozen Nashville SC fans (at least from the supporters’ groups; there may be some unaffiliated fans making the trip as well) will try to counteract that noise, but a midweek game in a different timezone is going to make that pretty rough for those who don’t have the luxury of requesting work off early. This will definitely be a home pitch for Louisville, nothing approaching neutral.

The Boys in Gold

 

Louisville hasn’t had its full roster available in a while, and it’s less so for Open Cup games.

(By the way, if you were wondering if Nashville is harmed by the international roster slots: a lot less so. Among guys who are regular contributors:

  • Kosuke Kimura is Japanese, but holds a Green Card and is not considered an international.
  • Ish Jome and Bolu Akinyode were both born in west Africa, but grew up in Minnesota and New Jersey, respectively, and are likely U.S. citizens (like Kimura, not subject to the roster restriction).
  • Liam Doyle and Robin Shroot are British. Lebo Moloto is South African and Ropapa Mensah is Ghanaian. Ryan James is Canadian. That’s only five guys who are likely subject to the restriction and also likely to play. It’s even possible that Doyle, James, and Moloto, who all went to college in the US, have citizenship or green cards.

Thus ends #rulebooktedium for the day)

Nashville beat a similarly-strong Louisville team at home just a few weeks back, but it’d be unfair to say that either team is as good on the road as it is at home: that’s part of why the host has taken both between the sides so far.

Nashville’s roster situation, meanwhile, is heading in the other direction from Louisville’s: with London Woodberry and Alan Winn coming off the injured (or just banged-up) lists, this is about as healthy as NSC has been – enough so to loan out a handful of players who were struggling to find gametime. Finally getting a rest after six games in 16 days (they had a full week off before Saturday’s win over North Carolina FC, and they have nearly a week off after this game, thanks to a blank weekend and Tuesday hosting of Indy Eleven early the following week) means fatigue shouldn’t be a consideration.

There’s a motivation for Nashville SC to prove itself – even more so than that’s a motivating factor for literally every sports team ever – and I think that we see whatever Gary Smith believes is his best XI. Brandon Allen and Ropapa Mensah should split time, but if Alan Winn (for example) can go 90, he should. We should get some clarity as to pecking order between Taylor Washington and Ish Jome, a better picture of where Ryan James fits into the 18, and how this team wants to play when it wants to play its best.

It should be really fun.

Projected lineups

Here we go:

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That’s basically the same lineup Nashville saw last time aside from injured Lancaster and internationals Souahy (France) and Ranjitsingh (T&T). Of course, one of the replacements (the Serbian Ilic) is an international as well, but sitting Ranjitsingh to have somebody to play striker is probably the only choice here.

For Nashville, it’s what I think is the Best XI – and there were some really tough choices of guys to leave off. Ropapa Mensah is obviously growing into a late-game supersub role, and he’ll have that in this one, too. Other subs will include a midfielder (either Washington on the left or Lagrassa/James on the right) and Woodberry into the game if NSC has a lead to protect at some point late in the game.

Predictions

I have a really tough time with this one, because so much is up in the air about Louisville’s roster fitness (and quite frankly, it might make sense to… not throw this game, but certainly not focus on it at the expense of USL play). I know NSC’s motivation is going to be high: as an expansion team, there’s a lot to prove, and this is the way to do it on the national stage. Also, the team is playing well enough to spend energy on USOC and not sacrifice too much in USL play.

  • Louisville City opens the scoring on a set piece, and does so relatively early in the game. That creates a feeling of “here we go again” for Nashville fans. The Boys in Gold have never come back to get a result after conceding first (they’ve had, uh, just two opportunities, the initial 2-0 loss to LCFC and then again by a 2-1 count to Indy a month later).
  • However, Nashville manages to wrest control of run-of-play after that point, and has some chances to close out the first half, with wing play from Ish Jome and Alan Winn major factors in that.
  • It’s Winn who creates the game-tying goal, crossing one in to Michael Reed at the top of the box (more of a pull-back pass than a true cross), and while Reed’s shot is saved, Allen is there to poach it home, as is his job. This comes about ten minutes into the second half.
  • Both teams play defensively in the second half. Nashville, because it seems like they tend to do that (and especially on the road), Louisville because they don’t have the depth to run for the whole game and still have the energy to both attack and defend.
  • “The whole game…” means more than 90 minutes in this one. We go to extra time.

Nashville SC wins 2-1. Whether that “2” comes in a penalty shootout or in added time from the foot of Ropapa Mensah is the question mark to me. Louisville just doesn’t have enough dudes to spend all their energy in the Open Cup, while it means everything to Nashville at this point in the year, and that’s the difference. Yes, it’s worth $25k to either team, but the monetary prize isn’t either one’s motivating factor. Nashville wants to be this year’s Cincinnati in terms of national pub (and not in terms of “finish 6th on the table but pretend like it’s as good as first because something something attendance).

See you in Atlanta.

US Open Cup preview: Q&A with Danielle Lerner of the Louisville Courier-Journal

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Last time out.

Nashville SC and Louisville City FC are no strangers: they’ve already played twice this season. What’s the latest with the Boys in Purple? I asked Danielle Lerner of the Louisville Courier-Journal for the update on LCFC.

For Club and Country: Louisville has been really banged up this year. Are they taking US Open Cup games lightly to try to get guys healthy for USL play, or running out a first-team lineup for each game?

Danielle Lerner: I wouldn’t say they are taking the Open Cup games lightly, but the lineups have not been consistent with the Starting XI for league matches. That’s due in large part to the considerable number of international players on the squad and the Open Cup’s limitation to five internationals. For example, second-string goalkeeper Tim Dobrowolski has started each tournament match because leaving first-stringer Greg Ranjitsingh (a Trinidad and Tobago international) off the roster opens up a slot. The injuries have certainly also taken a toll, so I would expect Wednesday’s lineup to look different, particularly up top, than both past Open Cup games and USL games.

FCAC: On that note, which key players are expected to be healthy (and which out) for the game?

DL: Strikers Luke Spencer and Cameron Lancaster remain out with injuries. Reserve midfielder/ forward Richard Ballard is still out as well. Ilija Ilic got his sixth start of the season at forward Saturday against Penn FC and was magnificent with two goals and one assist.

FCAC: The Lynn venue seems to be one that LCFC plays well in. What’s the atmosphere like there, and what should Nashville be expecting in comparison to Slugger?

DL: Lynn Stadium is a well-maintained facility, and Louisville City definitely benefits from playing on a soccer-specific pitch as opposed to at Slugger Field. Some might say they have an advantage at Slugger Field over visiting teams who aren’t familiar with the turf/grass mixture, but I’m not sure there’s truth to that. Attendance for the weeknight Open Cup games at Lynn has been so-so but increasing every match. The smaller venue (capacity of about 5,300) also makes it feel fuller and the atmosphere for the New England game felt very rowdy.

FCAC: These teams have split 2-0 games, with each winning on its home field. What is Louisville’s attitude heading into the third of (at least) four editions of this rivalry matchup this season? Are they building some animosity to their fellow Southern brethren?

DL: I don’t think this is one of those rivalries that has real animosity yet – Louisville has Cincinnati for that. Maybe that will change when FCC leaves for MLS. Assistant coach Daniel Byrd said last week that Louisville is confident heading into another Nashville match, but that the confidence doesn’t necessarily stem from familiarity with the opponent. I do think Louisville City feels more pressure to a) continue their history-making Open Cup run and b) get a win after two frustrating draws in a row.

FCAC: What lineup are the Boys in Purple likely to roll out? Any other specific predictions for the match?

DL: I have a hunch James O’Connor will try to recreate the same lineup he used in the New England game on Wednesday. Louisville City could feasibly field a nearly identical lineup just by replacing Lancaster with Ilic. The bench will be one short without Spencer, but Magnus Rasmussen could sub in as a forward, Niall McCabe as a midfielder, Shaun Francis as a defender and Chris Hubbard at keeper.

Many many thanks to Danielle for taking the time to chat about LCFC. Read her work in the Courier-Journal, and slide her a Twitter follow for more updates on the team.

Why Nashville SC didn’t apply to host the US Open Cup Round of 16 (and why the Louisville City game must be June 20)

Nashville SC is headed to Louisville. What is the answer to the two topics posed in the title?

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A tougher slate is probably worth a couple trips to Louisville for Nashville SC fans. (Courtesy USL)

The Date

The second question here is actually easier to answer, so let’s tackle it first. The “June 16-20 window” being thrown about online (including by LCFC) for the next US Open Cup match is not accurate. The date for all Open Cup matches is expected to be Wednesday, except for a few exceptions that are explicitly spelled out in the rules.

Game is subject to being moved up a day if chosen by U.S. Soccer to be broadcast nationally or if one of the participating teams has a league game scheduled for the following Friday.

I guess theoretically, if ESPN wants to carry the game and it’s moved to Tuesday, I’ll gladly be wrong and that’s awesome. I suspect they don’t intend to cover a game between two USL sides when there are plenty of MLS options available (unless they want to follow a Cinderella story… but in that case they would have started with coverage of fourth-round games between MLS and USL sides). Neither team has a Friday game, so that clause can’t trigger a date change.

So what’s with an even earlier date in the “window?”

Home team may choose June 16 or 17 if visiting team has at least two rest days on each side of chosen date. Election must be made within an hour of being named host.

Both Nashville SC and Louisville City FC have USL regular-season games June 16 (and both at home), so that’s not an option unless both are rescheduled for a different date. Screwing up the schedules of four different teams with minimal benefit – if any benefit at all – isn’t worth the effort here.

Thus, unless we’re seeing national television, June 20 is the only option. That’s a good thing for Nashville SC. While both teams have June 16 games, Louisville also plays June 23, whereas the Boys in Gold have a couple extra days off before hosting Indy Eleven June 16. There will be a less delicate balance in managing the roster, rest, etc. with that extra time. Louisville (which is already pretty banged up) won’t have the luxury of knowing it can play everyone available and let them have five days off before playing again.

Venue

Per US Open Cup rules of the competition, each participating team may submit only two hosting venues. Since Nashville has played in two different facilities, it’s clear what their two submissions were: Vanderbilt Soccer and Lacrosse Complex, and Dudley Field at Vanderbilt Football Stadium.

“First Tennessee Park and Nissan Stadium are not available June 20” is not a consideration here. The consideration is that they were both unavailable for the second- and third-round games (which NSC hosted at Vandy Soccer) and the fourth-round game (you may have heard they knocked off an MLS team there last night). There is no option for adding a third different venue. Anything other than the neighbors on Jess Neely Drive was off the table.

So then, that leaves us with a slightly different question: “Why didn’t Nashville SC apply for Vandy Football and/or Vandy Soccer for the fifth round?” From the participants’ handbook:

A team interested in hosting must name its possible home venues (limited to two) by submitting a Venue Declaration Form by the published deadline. The form is based on the stadium requirements set forth in the U.S. Open Cup Policy Manual.

You can see in the parenthetical why our two previously-discussed venues were the only ones available to NSC. Unfortunately, the “Policy Manual” is not publicly available – at least as far as I can find, if you know otherwise hit me up – so a bit of speculation is required.

Vanderbilt Soccer and Lacrosse Complex doesn’t meet attendance requirements for Round Four and beyond. This is an extremely easy assumption to make, and I presume it to be accurate.

Vanderbilt Football Stadium has permanent football lines and/or a crowned field. This is a little more speculative, but I’m guessing the field requirements get more stringent with each round (not just at major gaps between rounds, such as “pro teams enter the competition” and “MLS teams enter the competition”), so what was OK for Round Four is not for Round Five. There are other options here (the corners looked pretty tight – perhaps the dimensions weren’t wide enough), but it certainly seems as though something about Dudley Field itself doesn’t pass muster for the fifth round.

Now, maybe that’s not quite the case, and Vandy’s Stadium was submitted by Nashville SC, but when the other three teams in the group for the draw had better hosting situations (i.e. “football lines are not prohibited, but if other options don’t have football lines, a stadium with lines will not be chosen over it”), Nashville’s bid to host Round Five was denied.

Either way, see y’all at Lynn Stadium June 20.

Nashville SC draws Louisville City FC in fifth round of US Open Cup

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Hope you’re not busy June 20: Nashville SC will play its fifth-round match in the US Open Cup against Louisville City. Nashville did not apply to host the fifth-round match, and will travel to its USL rival.

After last night’s victory over MLS side Colorado Rapids, NSC was drawn into a group with Atlanta United, Chicago Fire (both MLS teams) and fellow USL club Louisville City FC. In a random draw at US Soccer House in Chicago this morning, the Boys in Gold were placed against Louisville. This will be the third matchup between the sides this year, with each taking a USL regular-season victory on its home turf by a 2-0 score (and they will meet a fourth time in the regular season in September).

Nashville’s inaugural season has also seen its inaugural upset over a higher-division team in the Open Cup, with MLS-worst side Colorado providing the first victim. Can Nashville continue its dream run by making it to the quarterfinals? LCFC beckons June 20. The victor will take on the winner of all-MLS matchup Atlanta v. Chicago – and will likely also take home $25,000 in prize money, granted to the team from a non-MLS division that advances the furthest (Sacramento Republic is the only other USL team remaining, and faces a stout LAFC side in the fifth round).

This will be the first away game, with home victories over NPSL side Inter Nashville FC and the PDL’s Mississippi Brilla at Vanderbilt Soccer and Lacrosse Complex preceding last night’s win at Vanderbilt Football Stadium.

Boys in Gold romp over MLS Colorado Rapids, advance in US Open Cup

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Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

NASHVILLE – Against one of the sides struggling most to put together a solid Major League Soccer season, perhaps one of the USL’s stronger side would be considered an upset special. Nashville SC proved this evening that that label is insulting – the better team, the one that should have been considered the favorite, won.

Nashville created plenty of chances in the first half, but needed help from the Rapids to break the deadlock. NSC left back Justin Davis whipped in a cross, and Michael Azira deflected the ball into his own net past keeper Zac MacMath. It felt a harsh way for the Rapids to go down, but the 1-0 halftime lead enjoyed by Nashville was deserved: even though the shot numbers were level, they created a greater volume of dangerous moments in the offensive third.

After the half, Nashville continued to enjoy the bulk of the run of play. They began to build up a shot advantage, but couldn’t put enough efforts on frame to find the back.

It was a late super-sub who made the difference. Ropapa Mensah replaced striker Brandon Allen in the 77th minute. After barely a minute on the pitch, he nodded home a cross from centerback Liam Doyle to double the advantage.

The Boys in Gold had already begun the defensive substitutions (replacing left winger Ismaila Jome with defender Ryan James in the 73rd minute), and that would continue with the final replacement in the 85th. Right back Kosuke Kimura – who, along with starting keeper Matt Pickens, had won an MLS Cup for the Rapids in 2010, when Nashville headman Gary Smith was stalking the sidelines in Denver – replaced midfielder Matt LaGrassa, and a shift from the 4-4-2 to a 5-3-2 with all three midfielders playing in a defensive posture indicated a willingness to see out the result.

The strikers would still combine for another chance, with Lebo Moloto’s throughball to Mensah barely cut out by a defender. More importantly though, Colorado wouldn’t seriously threaten Nashville’s goal, and the 2-0 result sees the Boys in Gold into the fifth round of the US Open Cup – in just its first appearance.

The draw will take place tomorrow afternoon, and Nashville will know the next step on its quest to hoisting the US Soccer Federation’s top domestic trophy.

Lineups

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Match events

  • 39′ COL OWN GOAL – 22 Michael Azira (NSH 2 Justin Davis “assist” on a cross)
  • 45’+2 – Half-time.
  • 47′ NSH Yellow card – 11 Ish Jome (foul)
  • 69′ COL Substitution – On 32 Jack McBean, off 94 Marlon Hairston
  • 73′ NSH Substitution – On 7 Ryan James, off 11 Ismaila Jome
  • 75′ COL Substitution – On 21 Bismark Adjei-Boateng, off 8 Johan Blomberg
  • 77′ NSH Substitution – On 3 Ropapa Mensah, off 32 Brandon Allen
  • 78′ NSH GOAL – 3 Ropapa Mensah (headed), assisted by Liam Doyle
  • 82′ COL Yellow card – 17 Dillon Serna (foul)
  • 84′ NSH Yellow card – 2 Justin Davis (time-wasting)
  • 85′ NSH Substitution – On 27 Kosuke Kimura, off 20 Matt LaGrassa
  • 90’+3 NSH Yellow card – 7 Ryan James (foul)
  • 90’+4 Full-time.IMG_5502.JPG

 

Halftime reset: Nashville SC 1-0 Colorado Rapids

NASHVILLE – It was a return to the old stomping grounds for Nashville SC, and things couldn’t be sweeter in Vanderbilt Football Stadium’s Dudley Field thus far. Nashville attacked the MLS Colorado Rapids early and often in the first half, and was finally rewarded in the 39th minutes when defender Justin Davis’s lefty cross was deflected into Colorado’s net by Rapid Michael Azira.

Nashville had plenty more opportunities than the Rapids – albeit with problems making the scoring connection in the final third – and the 1-0 scoreline is deserves despite the fact that the Rapids’ chances may have been better.

Davis is an easy first-half man of the match, with his “assist” on the own goal augmented by clearing a shot off his own line defensively.

If the Boys in Gold can keep the pressure through the second 45, they may be booking their ticket to the US Open Cup’s fifth round by the end of the evening. Through their first-ever half of competitive play against an MLS side, they don’t look out of place at all. Perhaps a nice cup run could help set the stage for a smooth transition to the league come 2020.

Lineups

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Match events

  • 39′ COL OWN GOAL – 22 Michael Azira (NSH 2 Justin Davis “assist” on a cross)
  • 45’+2 – Half-time.