United, Master’s in All Hallows Eve semifinal thriller
GUELPH – It might have been the night before Halloween, all Hallows Eve, but Guelph United FC and Master’s FA of Scarborough sure turned in a thriller at Alumni Stadium.
United’s dream inaugural season in the League1 Ontario Men’s Premier soccer league continues as they edged defending champion Master’s 3-2 in a semifinal match that required 22 shooters in penalty kicks to decide a winner.
Guelph United 3 Master’s FA 1 (SO)
And it was United goalkeeper Svyatoslav Artemenko who decided the victory. Guelph’s 11th shooter in penalty kicks, he scored on Master’s counterpart Spiridon Koskinas and then followed that by guessing right for a save on Koskinas.
“That was certainly the first experience I’ve had in this sport, going all the way down to the goalkeepers (in a shootout),” United co-coach Justin Springer said. “I thought I was a part of a long penalty shootout in my third year (with the Guelph Gryphons varsity squad) when we were playing Laurier and we went eight deep. Today was 11. I’ve never seen it come down to the last kick.”
Which felt better for Artemenko – scoring a goal or stopping the next shot?
“Of course making the save,” Artemenko said. “I’m a goalkeeper and I signed up for that. Of course it’s better making the save and knowing that it’s all over.”
United lucked out a little in its preparation as they did work on penalty kicks during their final practice session before the semifinal.
“The most recent practice we had we actually practised penalties which really kind of boosted our guys’ confidence so I think we knew what we were doing,” Artemenko said. “A bit of luck on our side, too, but that’s the game of football.”
Artemenko was involved on the kicking end of the practice penalty kicks, too, earlier in the week.
“He did, actually,” Springer said. “We were kind of talking about the Forge-Montreal game and how it went all the way down to the keepers and just as a joke he kind of took one in training and the rest is history, I guess.
“Thank goodness for the joke.”
“It was the exact same, down the middle,” Artemenko said. “I scored and you know what? Here I thought I would do the exact same. Luck helped me a little bit, too.”
And so did dealing with the pressure of the moment.
“Oh, there’s a lot of pressure on you, especially at the very end when it’s a penalty that decides if you keep going in the (shootout) or if you finish it,” Artemenko said. “You have to save it and it’s a lot of pressure on your back, but you kind of try to push it out of your head and just focus on the shot and that’s what I did. And luckily I guessed the right way, too, and it was a good save.”
While the keepers didn’t guess right too many times in the shootout – Guelph won the shootout 9-8 – they were brilliant when they did and spectacular in regulation time. The match went straight to the shootout at the end of regulation time.
United had jumped ahead midway through the first half when Jack Sears connected from a scramble right in front of the Master’s net.
However, the visitors came back to take the lead before halftime with a pair of goals about 10 minutes apart, both by Reshon Phillips.
League scoring champion Jace Kotsopoulos pulled United even when he tallied in the second chance and he had the opportunity to seal the win on a penalty shot with about five minutes to go before stoppage time, but he booted the shot a little high.
United had finished their first season in the league atop the West Division with a 10-2-0 record while Master’s were second in the East at 6-3-3.
“We certainly give Master’s a lot of respect,” Springer said. “They played very well all season long and today they showed why they placed so well on their side. I thought they were a very well organized team and they certainly played to their principles and their strengths. It was a very, very, very entertaining game today.”
While the game was a hard-fought affair, it was relatively clean and there was sportsmanship abound. United striker Thomas Skublak helped carry an injured Master’s opponent to his team’s bench in one stoppage while Master’s keeper Koskinas ran a water bottle out from his goal to a downed United player a little later in the game.
United will get a familiar opponent in Sunday’s championship match at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Woodbridge as they’re to tangle with Blue Devils FC of Oakville.
The Blue Devils, second in the West at 9-1-2, ousted Vaughan Azzurri, first in the East at 11-0-1, in the other semifinal Sunday at Maple with a 2-1 triumph.
United and the Blue Devils split their regular-season games with both winning on the road. United prevailed 5-0 at Oakville Aug. 29 and the Blue Devils came back with a 1-0 win at Alumni Stadium Oct. 17.
Sunday’s final is to start at 4 p.m.
- Guelph Sports Journal