On a night when Tavoy Morgan returned to the Harrisburg Heat, and the Sonora Soles, one of the MASL’s hottest teams came into town, it was the defense (and an ice storm) that led the Heat to a 5-2 win at New Holland Arena in a low scoring affair.
Morgan, a finalist for last year’s Rookie of the Year Award after his 23 goal season, was not with the Heat during their first eight games of this season.
“I was dealing with some family issues and doing some other work so I’m happy to be back,” Morgan said.
The man they call Bull reported to the team on Monday and then was thrust into action.
“I’ve had three days practice with the team,” he said. “We played some small-sided games for Coach to see how I look before they put me into today’s game. I had a good work out with the team and we have some connections from last year and we executed some today and I’m happy to have a goal to help the team get a victory.”
That goal was a turning point in the game after the Heat had gone down 1-0 on an Enrique Canez shootout goal after a handball penalty on Heat goalkeeper William Banahene.
“I was saying we had a bad first seven minutes and he had a big goal,” said Heat Head Coach Pat Healey. “We were playing bad and he had a big goal. That’s what he can do for us. He’s a natural goal scorer. He came in late. I don’t care, he’s here now and wants to win. We want to win. It’s water under the bridge now.”
It was the first ever meeting between the Heat and Soles, creating a unique scouting challenge.
“It’s interesting because they haven’t really played many teams that play our style that was away,” said Banahene. “They played in their really small, compact field so it was tough for us to watch games. I watched the San Diego game a couple times just because it was a spread out arena. I kind of had an idea when they were going to press and when they weren’t.”
Coming in, Sonora’s games had averaged 15.22 goals per game, influenced greatly by their compact home field, which is the second smallest in the league. The Soles had also won three of their last four games.
One of the keys was holding Canez to that single goal. Through Saturday night’s games he is tied for third in the MASL with 18 goals and 27 points.
“I’ve said it for three years I think Canez is one of the most underrated players in the league,” Healey said.
Sonora was playing without the injured Gustavo Rosales, but holding a team averaging almost eight goals per game to just two goals is a significant accomplishment for a young team. “The guys were buying in to wanting to win the game,” Healey said. “We blocked shots but we also allowed Will (Banahene) to makes some saves, and then just bodying up in the box. We have to improve on that a little more. Sometimes a goalie’s got to make the save. The second goal especially just letting them shoot. We’re holding teams to a low number. When you hold teams to a low number it gives you a better chance to win.”
That second Sonora goal came on a two-on-one breakaway with Canez slotting the ball to Xavier Barreras for a tap-in late in the first quarter, giving the Soles a 2-1 lead. Sonora would not score again in the game’s final 46:11.
“We played so hard offensively, defensively,” said Banahene. “We have a great understanding that I save the shots that I should, and some that I can’t they’re going to come up big and make some big blocks. Nelly (Santana), Elton (De Oliveira), Matt (Braem), they did a great job making big blocks and keeping the score as it was.”
It stayed, 2-1, however, until 11:45 of the second quarter when Danny DiPrima fed a restart pass to Dominic Francis, whose hard, but savable shot went through the hands of Sonora goalkeeper Alejandro Gallardo, who otherwise had a stellar night.
It was still anyone’s game until 9:20 of the third quarter when the Heat would take their first lead of the game on a pivotal goal that turned out to be the game-winner.
Nelson Santana had the ball in his own end and was under heavy pressure from Jose Antonio Cruz, but he resisted the easy release pass to Banahene. Finally DiPrima checked back after both Cruz and Alejandro Leyva got sucked in, and Santana crossed the ball to DiPrima who sent a long pass to Dylan Hundelt, who made a great first touch to chest the ball down on the full sprint, and then calmly deposited the ball past Gallardo with his second touch to give the Heat a 3-2 lead.
“When it first happened Nelson did a great job of holding the ball because our movement wasn’t good,” Healey said. “Finally, Danny got in a good spot, released the ball to Dylan, great ball right on the money, great finish. Probably one of the best goals we had all year. If we go to Will there he’s just chipping it out to probably a bad situation, but we showed a veteran experience there with composure and what a goal we executed at the end.”
A little over four minutes later, the Heat scored a goal that might have taken one more pass than necessary, but Matt Braem tucked home the loose ball for what turned out to be an insurance goal. It went Morgan to DiPrima to William Eskay to Braem.
Unlike the previous game, when the Heat let a 5-3 lead in Utica slip away, the Heat limited Sonora’s chances and didn’t open the door to a comeback. Banahene iced the game with 1:03 left when he threw the ball the length of the field into Sonora’s empty net for his first career goal.
“That’s by far one of my top favorite games that I’ve played in my early career, but I think it was a huge team effort, big blocks, big tackles, 100% work ethic throughout the whole game,” a beaming Banahene said after the game.
It was also the first win for the Heat against someone besides the Rochester Lancers. Due to games being rescheduled after the Canada MetroStars folded, the Heat played their first eight games exclusively against the Lancers and Utica City, going 5-0 against Rochester, but 0-3 against Utica.
“I’m from Rochester so I know those guys pretty well and I got a couple trips home and some home cooking, but it was nice getting a different face,” Banahene said. “You get kind of jaded playing the same team over and over, also it shows that we can beat someone else besides Rochester. We’re a true playoff contender.”
The Heat are now 6-3, tied with the Milwaukee Wave and Utica for second place in the Eastern Conference. Sonora falls to 4-6, but that is still good for the fourth playoff spot in the Western Conference.