DES MOINES - Marshalltown Community College's men's soccer team puts a lot of emphasis on corner kicks and creating chances from the advantageous position on the field.
Saturday, that work paid off in a big way as the Tigers scored two goals off corner kicks in the final 5 minutes and stunned No. 13 Iowa Central, 3-2, at Cownie Soccer Complex during Region XI semifinal action.
MCC led 1-0 at halftime but lost the advantage early in the second half only to rally behind two perfectly executed corner kicks by Bruno Liozzi.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
MCC goalkeeper Alfredo Piedra celebrates the Tigers’ thrilling 3-2 win over No. 13-ranked Iowa Central on Saturday in the Region XI semifinals at Cownie Soccer Complex in Des Moines. MCC scored two goals in the final 5 minutes to advance.
"We practice corners, we put time in during practice and we have set pieces that we run from the corners," MCC coach Rafael Martinez said. "It still has to go right on the field, and that was on the players today. They stepped up and made the plays."
The win advances the Tigers to the Region XI final on Sunday where they will take on No. 3 Iowa Western at 1:30 p.m. Iowa Western defeated Dakota County Technical College in the other semifinal.
"It's got to be a process," Martinez said of the comeback win. "We tell our guys to stay the path, stay the course and just trust ourselves. We needed to be strong when things went wrong. We knew this one would be hard."
Martinez knows today's championship match also will be tough. The win Saturday created a big celebration at midfield, but the jubilation won't last long as the Tigers still have one more win to go.
"We never gave up today," said Liozzi, who had three assists in the win. "We knew what we had to do today, and we did it."
The final two goals of the match came in the final 5 minutes and both came off corner kick set ups.
The first one came with 5 minutes to play and the kick was perfectly placed in front of the net where Joao de Olivera was there to punch it in. Olivera also put the Tigers up in the first half on another assist by Liozzi. After the first goal, Olivera celebrated with what he called a little "Brazilian celebration."
"We have a really good relationship out there right now," Olivera said of his Brazilian counterpart Liozzi. "Those corner kicks are all about precision."
The game-winning corner kick also was delivered by Liozzi. This time, the ball sailed past the Iowa Central keeper where MCC freshman Marcus Boehler got to it and then tapped it to Javier Lopez and the Spaniard did the rest, scoring his second straight game-winning tally.
"We have been putting in the work since August and it is starting to pay off for us," Martinez said.
The Tigers controlled much of the first half with solid defense and smart offense. MCC had several chances at the first goal but missed on close shots near the goal. Olivera missed the first opportunity and Ignacio Alex Bello also just missed the net with a hard shot that flew just wide of the goal.
Moments later, the Tigers finally cracked the scoreboard with an impressive goal that once again featured a pass from Liozzi and a shot from Olivera.
Liozzi sailed a pass down the middle of the field and two Tigers had broken free from the Iowa Central defense. Olivera ended up securing the ball, made one move and then shot a floater past the Triton keeper just inside the left post.
The Tigers took three shots in the first half and scored on their only shot on goal. Good passing and strong defense on free kicks and corner kicks helped MCC claim a 1-0 lead at halftime.
Iowa Central nearly tied the match just a few minutes into the second half but the ball crashed into the crossbar and flew out. Triton head coach Ben Taylor thought the ball slipped past the line and then argued that the sideline official was out of position on the play.
The equalizer did come a few moments later as Abelson Estimable scored his first goal in the 78th minute and it came off a nice assist from Juan Espinal.
After a Lopez header just missed the goal, ICCC turned a strong defensive stand into an offensive advantage. And with 27 minutes to play in the match, Estimable scored again, this time off an assist by Desner Calixte.
Both teams had some chances later to either tie the match or extend the lead.
MCC goalkeeper Alfredo Piedra kept it a one-goal deficit with a big stop off another shot from Estimable that came off a corner kick for Iowa Central.
That set up the final 5 minutes for the Tigers, and a thrilling victory for a squad that just wouldn't be denied.
"We left our families to come play here and for a chance to do this," Liozzi said. "It feels really good to get this win today."
The Tigers and Reivers will play at 1:30 p.m. at Cownie Soccer Complex. And the winner will advance to the NJCAA National Tournament.
"They are a tremendous team," Martinez said of Iowa Western. "Iowa Central is a tremendous team, too. We have a lot of great teams in this conference. We have to perform at our best. We'll try not to get away from our style, but it won't be easy. My guys don't expect it to be easy though."
MCC is now 12-5-2 on the season. Taylor continued to argue about the controversial goal after the match. NIACC tried to beat MCC with physical play and lots of fouls Wednesday. The Tritons used more skill and less physical play Saturday. It was a good, clean soccer match with plenty of intensity and thrilling moments. Martinez said he was most proud that his team was able to come through when things got tough. "We faced moments of adversity today, battled back and managed to get the win."