Coming off a thrilling come-from-behind win north of the border on Friday, Utica City FC was reminded on Sunday that there are no easy wins in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL), no matter the opponent’s position in the standings.
The Harrisburg Heat came into the game -- the third-straight sellout Sunday at the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium -- on a four-game losing streak and looking for a big win. The visitors, currently in last place in the MASL’s Eastern Division, gave Utica City plenty to handle in the first half before the hosts pulled away for a 6-4 win.
Eastern Division leader Utica City improved to 7-2 with the win.
“Playing divisional games is always going to be really competitive,” said Utica City defender Ben Ramin, who opened the scoring five minutes into the game with a putback of a shot attempt by Liam Callahan. “When teams come to this building, they have something to prove, they’re playing for pride.”
The hosts, who scored two goals 27 seconds apart in the final minute to rally past division rival Mississauga in Ontario on Friday night, went up 2-0 a couple of minutes after Ramin’s opening score on a goal by Callahan off a restart, but the Heat (1-6) got on the board early in the second quarter when Tavoy Morgan’s close shot on a fast break deflected off Utica City goalkeeper Andrew Coughlin and curled into the goal.
Morgan, who had two goals in the Heat’s loss to the second-place Baltimore Blast in an Eastern Division matchup on Saturday, went down in the collision with Coughlin and remained on the turf for several minutes.
A minute and a half after play resumed, Mohamed Kenawy buried a high shot off a perfect cross by Darren Toby on a fastbreak to put Utica City up 3-1. Harrisburg wouldn’t go away, however, as Danny DiPrima scored his first goal of the season two minutes later off a deflected shot by Tom Mellor to pull the Heat within 3-2.
That was the score at halftime as the two teams played to a standoff over the balance of the second quarter.
Utica City coach Ryan Hall said the message to his players during intermission was “just to relax.”
“Our system is great when we’re all buying into it, so just put your foot on the ball and relax,” said Hall, who was named MASL Coach of the Month for December, when he led his team to a 5-1 start.
The stalemate continued deep into the third quarter before Slavisa Ubiparipovic took a pass from Nate Bourdeau and drilled home a shot from outside the yellow line with the hosts in the power play to put Utica City up 4-2.
“For whatever reason, teams are sitting back on Slav, and he’s always got a green light,” Hall said of Ubiparipovic, who scored the first of Utica City’s two late goals (Joey Tavernese followed with the ultimate the game-winner) in Friday’s win over the MetroStars.
Two minutes later and with the teams back at even strength, Domenico Vitale scored his first goal of the season on an assist by Kenawy for what would prove to be the game-winner. After Coughlin (nine saves) turned away a penalty kick opportunity for the Heat, Mellor scored in close with Harrisburg in the power play to cut Utica City’s lead to 5-3 with just five seconds left in the period.
Ubiparipovic buried a penalty kick for his team-leading 11th goal six minutes into the fourth frame, and Patrick Thompson scored for Harrisburg with the visitors in a six-man attack five minutes later as the two teams traded goals in the final period to complete the scoring.
Ramin said the strong showing by Harrisburg -- which lost to Utica City 9-7 in the season opener on Dec. 1 in Harrisburg and 10-5 on Dec. 16 in Utica -- came as no surprise. The Heat outshot Utica City 19-12 on Sunday.
“I believe our division is the strongest in the league, although maybe the standings may not show it,” he said, adding that divisional games will only get tougher as the season progresses and teams “find out each other’s tendencies.”
“It’s just about staying on top of that, staying disciplined with what we do best,” Ramin said.
Utica City takes to the road for a pair of non-divisional games in the Midwest this weekend, against the St. Louis Ambush on Saturday, and at the Kansas City Comets on Sunday. Kansas City (4-4) and St. Louis (4-5) currently occupy second and third place, respectively, in the MASL South Central Division.
Utica City completes the road swing on Friday, Jan. 25 at Harrisburg, then returns home on Sunday, Jan. 27 to host the Orlando SeaWolves in a non-divisional matchup at 2 p.m. at the Adirondack Bank Center.
UCFC NOTES: Utica City captain Bo Jelovac hosted Kids’ Day on Sunday. An array of activities and amenities included autograph tables with team members and a jump house on the field after the game, and a poster contest. Team mascots from around the area, including Syracuse University basketball mascot Ollie the Orange, were on hand throughout the game… The special event was part of a public apology issued by Jelovac after receiving a red card during Utica City’s Jan. 6 loss to the Milwaukee Wave. Jelovac served the one-game suspension on Friday in Mississauga… Forward Mauricio Salles sat out both weekend games due to an injury sustained in the Milwaukee game… Besides Jelovac, also returning the Utica City lineup on Sunday were defenders Toby and Jake Schindler.
Utica City FC 6, Harrisburg Heat 4:
Harrisburg;0;2;1;1 - 4
Utica City;2;1;2;1 - 6
1st Quarter- 1, Utica City, Ramin 4 (Callahan), 4:56; 2, Utica City,
Callahan 8 (Gonzaga), 7:26.
2nd Quarter- 3, Harrisburg, Morgan 4 (unassisted), 1:45; 4, Utica
City, Kenawy 3 (Ramin), 3:13; 5, Harrisburg, DiPrima 1 (Eskay), 5:13.
3rd Quarter- 6, Utica City, Ubiparipovic 10 on power play (Bourdeau),
10:25; 7, Utica City, Vitale 1 (Kenawy), 12:25; 8, Harrisburg, Mellor
1 on power play (Villela), 14:55.
4th Quarter- 9, Ubiparipovic 11 on penalty kick, 5:49; 10, Harrisburg,
Thompson 2 (Villela), 10:43.
Shots-Harrisburg 4;7;4;4 - 19. Utica City 4;2;5;1 - 12.
Goalkeepers-Harrisburg, Perrella 5 saves. Utica City, Coughlin 9 saves.
Referees- Tim Tyma, Austin Salni, Daniel Johnston, Kit Hutchinson.