On Friday, the Harrisburg Heat returned home for their first game at the Farm Show Arena in nearly seven weeks and beat Utica City FC 7-4. The win for the Heat ended a six-game losing streak, while Utica’s loss knocked them out of first place in the Eastern Division.
While Harrisburg went 0-6 on their long road slog, four of the losses were decided by only one or two goals. While they were away, the Heat traded Thiago Freitas to the Orlando SeaWolves.
“It wasn’t a good fit here and we had too many midfielders and needed a defender,” said Heat Head Coach Pat Healey, who along with his father Kevin Healey, have been rebuilding the team since taking over a relatively short time before the season. “Sometimes you have to give up something good to get something good.”
In return the Heat received ascendant defender Dylan Hundelt, who had a number of key blocks Friday. “I thought Dylan was our best player out there tonight,” Healey said after the game.
Hundelt signed with Orlando in the offseason after three seasons with his hometown St. Louis Ambush. His father Kevin, a star defender, spent most of his career in St. Louis.
“I was just looking for a new experience, trying to explore a little bit and get out of St. Louis,” said Hundelt. His time in Orlando, however, only lasted three games. “The trade did come as a surprise but I’m very happy with the move.
“I just like to work hard and put in the extra effort defensively and Pat loves that kind of mentality so it’s something I can thrive here doing so.”
The first 30 minutes were tentative, with neither team having much to show for it. “The first half both teams played horrible,” said Healey, “but our second half was maybe our second best half of the season.” Harrisburg would settle for a 2-1 lead at halftime.
In the third quarter Jake Schindler tied the game on a direct kick goal, their second of the night after newly acquired Freddy Moojen’s restart goal in the second quarter had tied the game 1-1.
Things started to open up midway through the quarter. Stephen DeRoux’s reckless tackle took Tavoy Morgan out of the game with a twisted ankle. Healey thought the tackle was severe enough to earn a straight red card, a very rare occurrence in the indoor game. City coach Ryan Hall, however, pulled DeRoux from the rest of the game, which had the effect of a red card.
“He was fired up a little bit and I didn’t want anybody getting back at him,” Hall explained. “The last thing we want is for guys to get hurt. I don’t think it was intentional. I don’t want any retaliation. We sat him out, let him cool off. He’s been struggling with a hamstring as well, so by the time the fourth quarter came around he was too cold to get back in, so we just made the coaching decision to leave him out and get him healthy for Sunday.”
The Heat didn’t score on the ensuing power play, but Daniel Villela scored mere seconds after the penalty expired to give Harrisburg a 3-2 lead.
Utica tied it 90 seconds later when Moojen caromed a pass off the end boards to a streaking Bo Jelovac. It would be Utica’s only goal on the night in the run of play.
In the final minutes of the quarter Harrisburg took the lead for good. At 13:56 Dominic Francis scored a tap-in on a tic-tac-toe play: Patrick Thompson to Tom Mellor to Francis on the back post. Then with eight seconds left Ty Hall hit a ball that bounced high off the boards and was headed in by Ricardo Carvalho, and it looked like the ball reacted to Carvalho more than he reacted to the ball, but it gave the Heat a 5-3 lead.
The Heat defense and shot blockers were thoroughly engaged throughout the game and the 5-3 score held until, with 2:12 left in the game, Slavisa Ubiparipovic slid a cheeky restart pass to Darren Toby who one-timed it to cut the City deficit to 5-4. But just eight seconds later, Carvalho scored on a defensive clearance restart to seal the deal. Thompson added an empty net goal for the final margin.
Utica was without the services of Lucio Gonzaga (strained calf), Liam Callahan (hip pointer) and Mauricio Salles (arthroscopic knee surgery). “There’s no excuse by any means,” said Hall. We have plenty of players who can play, but we’ve had a couple of bad injuries, a little bit of the flu running through our team and the guys gotta step up and tonight we didn’t.”
It was the fourth of six meetings between the teams this year and Utica had won the first three, while Harrisburg entered the game with a 1-7 record. “It’s a short season so you always look back on the games that you woulda, coulda, shoulda,” said Hall. “The indoor game’s a grind day in, day out, long road trips, but these are the games you have to get up for. You can’t overlook anybody. It doesn’t matter what their record is, especially in the Eastern Division. It’s very deceiving their records. They’re all talented teams. They’re all very well coached and we clearly didn’t get up for this one.”
Utica, who fell a half game behind the Baltimore Blast in the Eastern Division now have lost two in a row for the first time this season. City had been averaging over 6.5 goals per game, but were unable to get much toward the net on Friday.
“They did a tremendous job pressuring us,” said Hall. “Patty really had them ready to go. They capitalized on some of our inexperience. I thought we were very flat, very unorganized, lazy at times and it doesn’t matter who you play in this league you have to capitalize. Hats off to them they did a fantastic job. They pressured the entire game and it was too little too late for us.”
Both teams have little time to contemplate Friday’s game. Harrisburg hosts Baltimore on Saturday and Utica travels home to host the SeaWolves on Sunday.
“Harrisburg was the better team tonight, bar none, no excuses,” said Hall. “We have to get through Sunday’s game and then we have a bit of a break and we have to focus on getting guys healthy and make a push for the playoffs.”