WASHINGTON, DC – A penalty kick goal by senior captain Mario Banegas proved to be the game-winner as the University of the District of Columbia men's soccer team topped Molloy, 8-7 in an East Coast Conference scoring frenzy as the Firebirds celebrated Senior Day on Saturday.
Three Firebird seniors scored a goal, including a first half hat trick by Adriel Garcia (Physical Education – Sau Paulo, Brazil/Anglo Campinas). District of Columbia took a commanding 4-0 lead into halftime, but was outscored 7-4 in the second half, allowing the Lions to score three goals in a span of less than three minutes late in the game before clinging to a one goal advantage for the final 2:51 for the victory.
The Firebirds snapped a four-game winless streak as they improved to 5-7-2 overall and 2-5-1 in the ECC. Molloy has now lost six of its last seven games as the Lions fell to 5-9 overall and 2-5 in league play.
District of Columbia struck early and often in the first half as Garcia got the Firebirds on the board in just 43 seconds of action. After some terrific passing by sophomore Ben Diaz (Education – Silver Spring, MD/Northwood HS) and freshman Elio Hernandez (Health – Germantown, MD/Northwest HS), Garcia dribbled around Molloy goalkeeper Michael Hunter and fired a shot into an open net for the game's first goal.
About three minutes later, Garcia was at it again – once more taking a pass from Diaz and dribbling around Hunter before firing on an open net from a tough angle just a few yards away from the goal but from outside the right post. Garcia's shot once again found the net and the Firebirds led 2-0 just before the four-minute mark.
After a little over 20 minutes of scoreless action, the tandom of Diaz and Garcia was at it again – this time, with Garcia's through ball finding the feet of Diaz, who then struck for his first goal of the season to put the host's ahead, 3-0 at the 24-minute mark.
Garcia added his third goal of the game (team-leading, sixth of the season) with just 17 seconds left before intermission. Sophomore Byron Brown (Accounting – Silver Spring, MD/Pocono Mountain HS) sent a cross into the box and Hernandez fired a shot that was stopped by Hunter, but Garcia was there for the rebound and took advantage. The Firebirds led 4-0 at halftime.
District of Columbia took just 1:26 to add another goal when play resumed for the second half. Senior Tansu Korkmaz (TV Production – Istanbul Turkey, Ozel Dogan Lisesi) improved to 3-for-3 on penalty kicks this season as he added his third goal of the season to put the Firebirds up 5-0.
Just over 50 minutes in, Tyler De La Torre put Molloy on the board as he fired a shot from just a few yards out after a cross by Steven Reyes and a flick by Dane Leavy. Hernandez responded for District of Columbia as he scored his third goal of the season on a well-executed breakaway opportunity by the Firebirds. Diaz and Garcia were both credited with assists on the play, and the Firebirds led 6-1.
Mario Gagliano would breathe life into the Lions once more as he scored off of a cross by Dan Brown in the 58th minute. Then after a little over 20 minutes of scoreless action, Lester Franco tallied off of an assist by Tom Garcia to make it 6-3.
Just 28 seconds after Franco's goal, Moussa Traore struck for his second goal of the season off junior Carlos Reyes' (Computer Science – Washington, DC/Woodrow Wilson HS) first assist of the season. With that goal, the Firebirds led 7-3.
Once again, Molloy answered right back at the 80:33 mark as Gagliano took a through ball from Franco and beat backup goalkeeper, freshman Risheq Waleed (Political Science – Greensboro, NC/Freedom HS) for a Lion goal to make the score, 7-4.
About two-and-a-half minutes later, District of Columbia's Byron Brown was tackled from behind inside the box, forcing another Firebird penalty kick. Senior Mario Banegas (Political Science – Frederick, MD/Urbana HS) would do the honors this time, beating Hunter to the right side of the net to give his team what seemed to be a comfortable, 8-4 advantage with just 4:52 left to play in regulation.
But the Lions came roaring right back. First, Franco tallied his second goal of the game, heading in a cross by De La Torre at the 84:52 mark. Then Stephen Polimeni added a goal at the 86:25 mark, and Gagliano completed his hat trick with a goal at 87:09 to bring Molloy within a goal, 8-7.
The Firebird defense, playing without standout defender , freshman Simon Bratke due to an ankle injury during pre-game warm-ups, would buckle down and keep the Lions from scoring in the final 2:51 and hang on for the, 8-7 nail-biting win.
Graduate goalkeeper Omar Gonzalez (Business Administration – Los Angeles, CA/Park View HS) picked up the win as he stopped 10 shots while allowing three goals in 80 minutes of work. Waleed relieved Gonzalez for the final 10 minutes and made one save while allowing four goals. Meanwhile, Molloy's Michael Hunter took the loss as he allowed eight goals while making four saves in a complete game's work.
Molloy out-shot the Firebirds 29-19 overall and 18-12 as far as shots on goal. The Firebirds held an 11-10 shot advantage in the first half, but Molloy more than doubled-up District of Columbia, 19-8 in the second frame.
The Firebirds, who just played their first home game in three weeks, will go back on the road to take on non-conference foe California University of PA on October 23rd at 3 p.m.