Utica City FC struggled offensively on Sunday in its first home loss, 7-4 to the Milwaukee Wave, in a Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) non-divisional game in front of a second-straight sellout crowd at the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
South Central Division leader Milwaukee improved to 6-0 as seven players scored goals for the MASL’s lone undefeated team. Liam Callahan, Bo Jelovac, Slavisa Ubiparipovic and Lucio Gonzaga netted goals for Eastern Division leader Utica City, which dropped to 5-2.
“The ball bounced their way today, but they’re a good team, they’re a quality team,” said Gonzaga, whose goal on an assist from Darren Toby with Utica City in a six-man attack pulled the hosts to within 6-4 with 2:18 left in the game. “We kind of deviated from what we’ve been doing. … We’ve got to go back to our basics, tracking every [opposing] player from the back.”
The Wave outshot Utica City by just 20-19 for the game, but it was Milwaukee’s defenders who hounded Utica City all over the field and limited the hosts to just a handful of quality shots on goal.
“We couldn’t seem to get control of the ball on our possessions,” said Utica City head coach Ryan Hall. “Milwaukee is very disciplined and they’re very organized. It takes the wind out of your sails.”
Rafael Dias, who filled in at goalkeeper after starter Josh Lemos was injured in Milwaukee’s 8-2 road win over the Mississauga MetroStars on Saturday, had six saves for the Wave. Andrew Coughlin recorded nine saves for Utica City.
Milwaukee’s fifth-year head coach Giuliano Oliviero said all of his players “were very excited about coming here and playing on the blue turf.”
“We knew it was going to be an extremely tough game,” he said. “The guys put in an incredible amount of effort on the defensive side of the ball. It’s always tough on the road. We didn’t score the first goal (of the game), but we battled back.”
Utica City opened the scoring eight and a half minutes into the game when Liam Callahan buried a shot from the center of the yellow line on an assist from Slavisa Ubiparipovic. Milwaukee scored the next four goals -- two by Luan Oliveira and Max Ferdinand to give the Wave a 2-1 first-quarter lead, another by Andre Hayne late in the second quarter to extend the lead to two goals at halftime, and then another early in the second half by Drew Ruggles on an assist by the visitors’ tough field leader Robert Renaud to extend the Wave’s lead to 4-1.
After Jelovac cut the lead to 4-2 with a no-look back kick from in close four and a half minutes into the third period, an already physical game boiled over as two Utica City players were sent to the penalty box together on blue and red card infractions -- dangerous play and abusive language, respectively.
Milwaukee used the two-man power-play advantage to regain the three-goal lead with just under two minutes remaining in the quarter when Angel Curiel scored on an assist by Oliveira.
“You’ve just got to stay disciplined with two top-level teams (facing off),” Hall said. “Tempers will flare. But we have to be professional. We have to keep our cool.”
Ubiparipovic’s goal midway through the fourth quarter pulled Utica City to within 5-3, but with 3:41 left in the game and the hosts in the six-man attack, Isaac Pereyra connected on a long empty-netter to again extend Milwaukee’s lead back to three goals. After Gonzaga’s goal cut Utica City’s deficit back to two a final time, Daniel Chamale’s empty-netter with a minute left iced the win for the Wave.
Callahan called Utica City’s first home loss “always disappointing.”
“But that’s a tough team, a team we have to play if we want to compete in the postseason,” he said. “We knew it coming into the game that they were going to hard-press us.”
It was the lone regular season encounter between Utica City and Milwaukee, but Oliviero said nobody should be surprised if the two teams -- one in its first year in the MASL, the other North America’s longest-running professional soccer organization at 35 years -- find themselves matched up in postseason play.
“There’s a good chance these teams will see each other again this year,” the Wave coach said.
After a road game against Eastern Division rival Mississauga (2-5) on Friday, Utica City returns home to the Adirondack Bank Center on Sunday, Jan. 13 for another divisional matchup against the Harrisburg
Heat. Game time is 2 p.m. Harrisburg (1-4) will play on the road against the Baltimore Blast (4-2) in a divisional encounter on Saturday.