The Sounders U23s found themselves facing a one-goal deficit for a majority of the game against the Washington Crossfire, unable to seize momentum for long. But after falling behind for the third time early in the second half, a late strike by substitute Eric Stevenson provided the final equalizer, as the U23s earned a much-needed 3-3 draw with the Crossfire on June 30 at Redmond High School.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” said U23s head coach Darren Sawatzky. “Some guys came into the game and changed it and worked really hard…but we gave away too many easy goals.”
The Crossfire took the lead in the fourth minute when Matthew Sarett avoided a tackle on the left side of the box and drove a low shot past Sounders keeper Zac Lubin and into the right netting.
The Sounders equalized in the 37th minute when Aodhan Quinn sent a pass down the left sideline to Aaron Kovar, who outraced the defense and sprinted toward goal. Kovar sent a low pass – that Sawatzky described as “world class” – to the middle of the box, where Luis Esteves slid to drive a shot past Crossfire keeper Mike Arguello for the equalizer.
“Luckily we’ve got guys like Aodhan and Jordan Schweitzer and Michael Harris, who can really hit a good ball outside,” Kovar said. “Once it’s there, the space is open and we can put it in and do what we like.”
But the momentum was short-lived, as James Moberg converted a penalty kick three minutes later after being fouled in the box to regain a 2-1 lead for the Crossfire.
The Sounders had a couple golden opportunities to equalize before the half, as Esteves found forward Sean Okoli wide open on the right side in the 42nd minute, but Okoli’s low shot sailed just left of goal. Okoli then laid off a pass for Quinn at the top of the box in the 45th minute, but Quinn’s shot flew just left as well.
But they equalized again just four minutes after halftime, as Kovar got past a defender near the left sideline and sent a beautiful cross into the middle, where Mark Lee slammed it into goal with a header.
But the Crossfire answered immediately again, as Sean Russell outraced the U23s’ defense on the right side in the 51st minute and slammed a goal past Lubin to regain a 3-2 lead.
The Sounders then began subbing liberally to bring in fresh legs, and were able to maintain possession on the Crossfire’s half, but were unable to strike over the next 30 minutes.
But two subs provided a spark in the 82nd minute, as Maximiliano Estrada took a pass on the right side and sent a pass in the middle to Stevenson, who drove a low shot past Arguello from 30 yards out.
“Every time (the Crossfire) scored one, we just had to keep moving forward,” Kovar said. “We had some guys that came off the bench that made a real difference.”
The draw provided the U23s with a valuable point in the league standings, as they maintained a three-point lead over the Crossfire for fourth place – the league’s final playoff position. The U23s were set to travel to Edmonds-Woodway High School on July 4 to take on the North Sound Seawolves at 4 p.m., and will host the Victoria Highlanders on July 7 at 2 p.m. at Sunset Chevy Stadium in Sumner.