BUCKTOWN >> After losing to Phoenixville twice during the regular season, Upper Merion looked primed to get revenge in the Pioneer Athletic Conference semifinals Tuesday evening.
The Vikings had a one-goal lead and a couple opportunities to add to that early in the second half, but all of that changed in the 45th minute.
Carlos Garcia was given a red card after hitting an opponent and the Vikings were on the defensive the rest of the game that turned into a 2-1 Phoenixville win at Owen J. Roberts’ Wildcat Stadium.
Phoenixville’s Yair Ibarra tied the game in the 55th minute when his shot — that may have been intended to be a cross — found the top left corner and Greg Flamma tallied the game-winner in the 75th minute when he buried a rebound into the back of the net.
“I thought we weren’t sharp,” Phoenixville coach Mike Cesarski said. “That’s a credit to Upper Merion — the style they chose to play against us made it difficult to break them down on the back. It’s a credit to their kids and their coaching staff. We really had to find our rhythm in the game. Definitely going up a man helps, but even in the first half we dominated possession, we had the majority of shots. We basically had one free kick that hits off a post (Upper Merion’s goal). That’s how things can go if you let little opportunities like that go.”
The Phantoms win sends them to the PAC championship game Thursday at 5 p.m. against Spring-Ford.
After the red card, Phoenixville possessed the ball deep in Upper Merion territory for nearly the entire final 35 minutes of the game. Vikings goalkeeper Dylan Castillo made nine of his 15 saves in the second half to try to keep his side in the game.
“We can’t play against a team like that with 10 guys,” Upper Merion coach Thomas Dodds said. “We’re lucky we can play with them with 13 guys. Everything’s running smooth. We had it where I wanted it. Lose your center-back, you have to filter in. It’s only a matter of time.”
“In your head you tell yourself you have to be patient because the chances are going to come,” Cesarski said of the man advantage. “Honestly them losing a guy doesn’t really change their shape that much because they’re still getting most of their guys behind the ball, maybe gives them one less option attacking wise … (The man advantage) lit a spark for us as far as giving us more confidence to keep putting balls in the box.”
After 10 minutes of trying to find their way through the Vikings defense, the Phantoms broke through. Ibarra had the ball on the far right sideline and raced forward. He hit a high, arcing ball toward the middle of the field. The ball kept going and landed in the top left corner.
“I’m going to ask (Yair) but I’m pretty sure it was a cross,” Cesarski said. “When you play attacking soccer, you make those opportunities happen. I’m fine with scoring that way.”
Phoenixville’s Danny Jackson was breaking towards the next with the ball from the left side to set up the game-winner. He fired a shot that Castillo stopped, but the ball got away and trickled to the right side. Flamma was the only one around to put the ball in the back of the net and give the Phantoms their first lead of the game.
“I was just making the run and I saw Dan running up the side,” Flamma said. “I was like ‘Give me the ball, Dan.’ It just happened. I thought I was going to miss, to be completely honest. I hit it with a little slide and hit the corner.”
The Vikings best chance at tying the game came in the final 90 seconds. Yaseen Elarbi took a free kick from midfield and Trevor Looby corralled the ball in front of Phoenixville’s goal. He turned and fired a shot that went just wide to the left.
Looby gave the Vikings a 1-0 lead in the 25th minute. He took a free kick from 25 yards away on the left side. His strike bent around a two-man wall back towards the near-side post, hit the post and deflected in.
Despite being held scoreless for 55 minutes, the Phantoms possessed the ball more than Upper Merion and had a more scoring chances. In the 22nd minute, Castillo left the net to make a great save, but Castillo and Phoenixville forward Jake Perillo were both banged up on the play. Perillo never returned and his status is unknown for Thursday’s championship game.
Immediately after the red card, Phantoms’ Kyle Tucker took a free kick from 28 yards out. His shot sailed over the wall and banged off the crossbar.
These two teams could be in line for a fourth meeting in the District 1 Class-3A playoffs. As the rankings stand now, No. 6 Upper Merion and No. 3 Phoenixville would play in the first round.
“We know what they are, they know what we are,” Dodds said. “Our kids will feel good … That will be a battle.”
Phoenixville 2, Upper Merion 1
Upper Merion 1 0 — 1
Phoenixville 0 2 — 2
Goals: UM: Trevor Looby. PH: Yair Ibarra, Greg Flamma.
Assists: PH: Danny Jackson.
Saves: UM: Dylan Castillo 15. PH: Gavin Perillo 1.