By Charles Cuttone
SAN DIEGO - July 28, 2012 - The Madison 56ers held off the hard-charging Bay Area Ambassadors to capture third place in the National Premier Soccer League Championship series with a 3-2 win at Del Norte High School Saturday night.
Madison jumped out to a 2-0 lead midway through the first half. Derek Pitts gave the 56ers the lead in the 20th minute, getting a ball in the penalty area for an easy finish past Bay Area goalkeeper Derek Leslie.
Three minutes later, the Madison side, losers to FC Sonic Lehigh Valley on Friday night, doubled the lead. NPSL Player of the Year Carlos McCrary made a brilliant run down the right side before cutting into the penalty area and slotting the ball to Jed Holbein for the first of his two goals.
As they did in Friday night’s 3-2 loss to Chattanooga FC, Bay Area pushed unrelentingly for a comeback. Francisco Lopes scored on a header in the 40th minute, after a corner kick was played into the penalty area.
Five minutes into the second half, Madison again extended their lead to two goals when Holbein drilled an 18-yard shot from the top of the penalty area.
Undaunted, the black-clad Ambassadors pulled another one back in the 57th minute, when Nick Cashmere made an overlapping run down the left side of the field and slotted the ball past 56ers goalkeeper Max Jentsch.
Despite playing their second game in 24 hours, both teams created chances, especially in the first half, before the weary legs started to show.
In the 12th minute, Bay Area’s Stefan Clemens forced a diving save by Jentsch. Six minutes later, Leslie was forced to make a diving save on a shot by Madison’s Jack Keeling.
The teams pretty much traded chances until Madison took the two-goal lead. In the 20th minute, Clemens took a corner kick from the near side, and Jordan Keys got up high over the Madison defense to head the ball down, but Jentsch was able to handle the ball off the bounce.
A minute later, Keeling made a long run, but did not get much behind his shot, allowing Leslie to easily grab it.
Soccer wisdom says that a two-goal lead is the hardest to hold, and the last five minutes and the first five minutes of a half are the most dangerous times of a game. Both proved true on Saturday. Madison became complacent and allowed Bay Area to get back into the game. The Ambassadors pulled one back, then came close to equalizing in the 47th minute, when Cashmere made a run almost to the end line, forcing Jentsch to make a save at the near post.
Madison had a goal called back because of an offside in the 49th minute, before Holbein scored, but other than Bay Area’s goal, few other chances were created as the game wore on.
The NPSL Championship series concludes on Sunday at Del Norte High school, with FC Sonic Lehigh Valley and Chattanooga FC squaring off for the title at noon PT.