Lexington’s comeback magic not to be this time in Windsor
Photo by Lexington Sporting Club
Lexington SC fell 3-2 last night on the road to the Northern Colorado Hailstorm in a match that was the tale of 2 halves. Lexington SC remains 9th in the USL1 table as their record falls to 7 wins, 7 draws, and 12 losses with 28 points, with NoCo (13-7-5, 46 points) jumping into a tie with Omaha (who just set the USL1 record with 7 straight wins in their 4-3 win over NCFC last night) for 2nd in the league table, just 1 point behind NCFC.
Kimball Jackson, who made his USL1 debut last Friday when he was subbed on late against Greenville, made his first-ever USL1 start due to Terique Mohammed serving a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation. The Boys in Green started strong defensively, with Amal Knight making a diving spot, followed by Erick Ceja-Gonzalez clearing the ball away in the 7th minute. Both sides would go back and forth over the next few minutes before NoCo would strike first in the 16th minute when Billy King sent a long cross to Marky Hernandez, who touched the ball right past Knight. NoCo would not let up the pressure as they came right back in the 18th minute when Noah Powder launched a volley that Knight saved with an acrobatic effort.
The Hailstorm would keep coming, though, as they are no stranger to Lexington’s comeback abilities, putting Lexington on the back foot and leading to 3 questionable yellow cards shown to Lexington (they are suspicious to me because NoCo committed similar fouls and received no cards). Knight would make another great save in the 38th minute, tipping a Hailstorm free kick just over the bar. Still, NoCo would get their 2nd goal on the board right before the half when Arthur Rodgers (the USL1 leader in assists) bagged his first goal on the season in the 43rd minute off a knuckleball cross that squeaked by the Lexington defense and appeared to deflect off someone before getting past Knight.
The Hailstorm’s all-out attack strategy in the first half can be seen through the stats – 11 shots (5 on target) with 6 corners. However, Coach Stockley has created one of the most solid backlines in the league (and one of the most underrated, in my opinion), who blocked 3 shots and made 11 clearances, with Knight picking up 3 saves, preventing the Hailstorm from running away with the match with Jackson playing particularly well in his first league start against one of the best offenses in the league.
Coach Stockley and his Boys in Green had been down 2 goals at halftime in Windsor before, and they came out in the 2nd half like a completely new side. NoCo would continue the pressure for roughly the first 10 minutes of the 2nd half, with Powder getting the Hailstorm’s 3rd goal in the 55th minute off a rocket from just inside the box that just beat Knight to the post and in. Lexington would flip the switch after this, with Roberston and Machell having a great chance on goal, only to be denied. Sensing fresh legs, Stockley put Balogun, Dlamini, and Soso trio in the 68th minute. Dlamini would become a difference maker, getting Lexington on the board with his first goal of the year in the 75th minute, getting a perfect deflection on his shot to bury the ball in the lower left-hand corner – Balogun would pick up his 2nd assist on the year as well.
Sensing a new energy level, Stockley brought on Franky Martinez and Josh Head (making his Lexington/pro debut) in the 77th and 78th minute to make that final push, and they nearly completed it. Balogun would be fouled in the box in the 86th minute, leading Don Smart (who else but THE DON) to take the penalty and bury it for his USL1 record 6th penalty goal of the year in the 87th minute.
Sadly, that would be all she wrote for Lexington, as even with 6 additional minutes of added time, with NoCo’s defense holding firm, it finally prevented a Lexington comeback to get the win and split the season series 1-1-1 for both sides.
Now, I know it would have been fantastic for Lexington to go on a run and make the playoffs in their first year, and they can still technically make it if things go their way; I think what we have seen from Stockley’s strategy over these past 2 matches is precisely what I wanted to see. Lexington is still all in on winning every match, but Stockley is also using the matches to gain experience for the younger players and see what he has going into next season. I am not saying that Stockley has given up on the playoffs this year, nor do I think he or the boys will until they are mathematically eliminated. Still, it will be interesting to see what combination of players we will see over these final 6 matches and the roles that Stockley places on them for the match.
Lexington SC will play their 2nd match this week on Sunday, September 10th, in Fresno, California, against Central Valley Fuego FC. Kickoff is set for 10:30 pm EST/9:30 CST. Check back later this week for our match preview, and stick to Bluegrass Soccer Cast (@BGSoccerCast on all social media platforms) for full coverage of Lexington SC, and everything soccer in our beautiful Commonwealth.