WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. – A free kick early in the second half turned into a goal for defender Thomas Spear as 3rd-ranked Palm Beach Atlantic withstood a strong attack by Florida Southern for a 1-0 win over the Moccasins Saturday night.
Spear's header at the back post was enough to give Palm Beach Atlantic (15-1, 8-1 Sunshine State Conference) its fourth 1-0 win of the season, all of them in conference play. It was the fifth straight win for the Sailfish since their 1-0 loss to Lynn, and brings the SSC regular season title race down to those two teams. A win by Florida Southern (12-3, 6-3) would have forced a four-way tie at the top of the standings heading into the final game of the regular season, but the Sailfish survived again for their eighth one-goal win in the SSC this year.
HOW IT HAPPENED
- The first scoring chance belonged to the Mocs with a free two minutes into the game from the top of the box but they were unable to turn that into a shot as it was cleared by the PBA back line.
- The Moccasins then dodged a bullet in the eighth minute when the Sailfish had three opportunities to score but could not convert any of them. Benny Yusufoglu saved the first one on a low shot through the crowd by Claudio Rivadeneira that bounced back out for Juan Pablo Puelma, whose shot was deflected over the crossbar. The ensuing corner kick bounced through the box with the Sailfish unable to make a play on it.
- After just one shot in the first 22 minutes, the Mocs put together three in a relatively short time between the 23rd and 26th minutes. Alberto Diaz forced Elliott Barker into a diving save on an attempt from long distance that started the sequence, and Taylor Vincent came back 90 seconds later for a shot from the right side of the box that forced Barker to push it away from the top left corner. James Meehan then came through not long after with an even better look at the goal, putting one just wide of the far post.
- That shot by Meehan in the 26th minute was the last taken by either team in the first half, and the Sailfish had none after the 15-minute mark. The two sides combined for nine shots in the half, five by Palm Beach Atlantic and four by Florida Southern.
- The Moccasins came out strong to start the second half with three shots in the first five minutes, including one by Meehan inside the box that again carried a little bit wide.
- The Sailfish broke the seal in the 58th minute after a foul against the Mocs gave them a free kick from the right side of the field, about 30 yards from goal. Yusufoglu went up to snare the kick taken by Blake Barribeau, but was unable to hold it as Spear came in from behind to head the loose ball into the open net for his first goal of the season.
- In the 61st minute, the Mocs had their first chance to equalize when Christoph Gums found room to shoot from the top of the box, but pulled it wide of the left post. At that point in the game, even down on the scoreboard, the Mocs had the better of it on the stat sheet with nine shots to the Sailfish six.
- Yusufoglu would be tested more frequently over the next several minutes but each time kept the Sailfish was from adding to their lead. The sophomore goalkeeper made two saves against Timo Knull in quick succession in the 64th minute following another PBA free kick, and later snuffed out a threat by Raphael Campos who fired off a shot at the end of a long attacking run by the Sailfish.
- Yusufoglu made another big save in the 74th minute with Drew Fulmar on the receiving end of a long downfield pass from Barribeau. Taking it into the box with no one else in front of him, Fulmar was unable to get the ball past Yusufoglu, who stayed low to redirect it. Knull ended up with it when the Mocs turned the ball over right after the save, but Knull pulled the shot wide to the right.
- A foul against the Sailfish gave the Mocs an opportunity in the 79th minute, with the play resulting in a corner kick. Daniel Moore got a head on the ball and put it toward goal, but it was grabbed by PBA goalkeeper Elliott Barker. The Mocs had just one more shot after that, but it too was saved by Meehan in the final minute.
- Yusufoglu finished with six saves for Florida Southern and Barker made five for Palm Beach Atlantic as the Mocs out-shot the Sailfish 14-12, and doubled their corner kicks, 6-3.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
- Saturday night's game was the fifth this season for Florida Southern against a nationally ranked team. That's one short of the school record set in 2003 and matched in 2012. In each of those seasons, however, the Moccasins played two ranked teams twice (Rollins and Barry in 2003; Rollins and Lynn in 2012). That makes the five different ranked opponents this year the most the Mocs have ever played in one season. They will likely add to that number on Tuesday with Barry up next on the schedule, the Buccaneers currently ranked No. 19, and with two wins since the last poll was announced.
- This is the second year in a row Florida Southern has played Palm Beach Atlantic with the Sailfish ranked No. 3 in the country. PBA also won last year's game in Auburndale 1-0.
- Florida Southern and Palm Beach Atlantic each have nine shutouts this season.
Florida Southern wraps up the regular season on Tuesday with a home match against No. 19 Barry at 7 p.m.