By Jason Peake/NPSL.com
FC Wichita took a big step towards securing a Heartland Conference championship with Saturday night’s 2-0 victory over the Demize NPSL at Lake Country Soccer Complex in the NPSL National Game of the Week.
Conference-leading FC Wichita (7-1-1) picked up three points with the win, moving a step closer to capturing a top postseason seed in the process.
“I think we have what I’d consider a stranglehold at the top,” FC Wichita head coach Steve Ralos said. “Each game just gives us an opportunity to keep progressing with clean sheets and putting goals in the back of the net and just refining what we do.”
Wichita entered the night three points ahead of second-place Little Rock. Ozark FC defeated Little Rock 2-1 in other Heartland Conference action on Saturday.
With one game remaining in the regular season, a conference championship appears likely for the Wichita squad.
“The group’s peaking at the right time,” Ralos said. “The process is working for us. This is a good group.”
The Demize squad needed a win to keep its slim playoff hopes alive. For the hosts, it wasn’t meant to be on this night.
With the loss, the Demize (2-6-1) were eliminated from playoff contention, as only the top four teams in the final league standings will advance to the postseason tournament. The Demize are securely locked into fifth place with one game remaining.
“We had to win tonight,” Demize NPSL head coach Chris Hanlon said. “I think this really puts the coffin on it. We’ll be back next year.”
Hanlon gave credit to the Wichita squad.
“They’re a good team and they capitalized on our mistakes,” Hanlon said. “All credit to Wichita. They finished their opportunities. In this league, there’s a razor thin margin for error.”
The Wichita squad had just defeated the Demize 4-0 one week earlier at Stryker Soccer Complex.
In the rematch, the Demize had an early opportunity in the second minute, but no one could pull the trigger in front of the goal.
After a corner kick, Wichita nearly scored in the 11th minute, but Diego Serfaty’s header went off the crossbar. Serfaty had another scoring opportunity in the 34th minute after James Togbah set him up with a beautiful pass to the back post. But Serfaty’s header was off the mark.
The competitive first half was still scoreless until just before intermission, as Wichita forward Deri Corfe’s rocket found the back of the net in the 45th minute. Mitre National Player of the Week Matt Clare assisted on the play.
“The first goal we gave up in the first half should have never happened,” Hanlon said. “We should have played the ball forward and put their backline under pressure. Instead, we reset to our goalkeeper and they were pressing high with four players. They won the ball on a counter-attack and scored.”
It was the only goal of the opening half.
For a large part of the first half, Wichita controlled possession, but the Demize fared well on counter-attacks, although they could not break through.
Neither side had many scoring chances late in the first half. Wichita’s Clare took a free kick in the 43rd minute, but the Demize headed it away.
The Demize were hit with three yellow cards in the first half, while Wichita was whistled for one.
“The first half was not typically the way we’d like things to happen,” Ralos said. “But we were still winning 1-0 at the half. We had a ton of chances.”
FC Wichita’s Felipe Maia had two scoring chances early in the second half, but the first went off the post and the second was saved by Demize goalkeeper Tomas Zajfert.
The Demize took two free kicks and two corner kicks in a four-minute stretch after the 60th minute, but they failed to break through.
The Demize also had an opportunity in the 73rd minute after a yellow card on Wichita. But once again, the Demize failed to find the back of the net.
George Redwin of the Demize had an opportunity for the equalizer directly in front of the goal in the 79th minute, but his shot missed high.
“Charlie Hackshall played a great service to George,” Hanlon said. “George was inside the six and all he’s got to do is put the ball on target and not hit the goalie and it’s a 1-1 tie. And then anything could have had happened. But you have to score when you have opportunities.”
Craig Barker also took a shot on-goal late for the Demize.
Wichita’s Clare scored in the 84th minute, with Togbah assisting. After receiving the ball, Clare created some space and then knocked it into the back left side of the goal.
“Matt’s flying now,” Ralos said. “He’s found his feet with the boys around him.”
Wichita goalkeeper Mark Weir earned the clean sheet with four saves.
Demize goalkeeper Tomas Zajfert was credited with eight saves, keeping his team in the game with several stellar stops.
“Tomas made some great saves and kept us in the match,” Hanlon said.
The Demize will end the 2017 season with a game at Dallas City at 7:00 pm on Thursday in Addison, Texas. Before beginning the playoffs, Wichita ends the regular season on Saturday, July 8 with a home date against Dallas City FC.
Photo Credit: Jason Peake/NPSL.com