For Trois-Rivieres Attak coach Philippe Eullaffroy, Saturday night’s 3-3 tie against the Italia Shooters in the first of a two-game Canadian Soccer League semifinal series could not be described as just any old missed opportunity.
In the match’s 92nd minute, off an Italia corner kick, Shooters forward Damien Pottinger’s header past goaltender Andrei Badescu sealed a draw at Saint Joan of Arc turf field in one of the most thrilling comebacks in league history.
With a 3-1 Attak lead in the 81st minute, Eullaffroy could only watch on the sidelines in befuddlement as Badescu, after making a save, kept the ball in his possession for close to 10 seconds before referee Matthew Arduini penalized him for delay of game.
The Shooters took advantage of the goaltender’s misfortunate as midfielder Jason De Thomasis’ free kick strike inside 20 yards beat Badescu to cut the Attak’s lead to 3-2 before Pottinger’s tying goal in stoppage time.
Eullaffroy said his keeper apologized to his teammates for the snafu, but the coach’s frustration over the play was still evident.
“He had a very good first half, but because of him, we lost the second half,” he said.
“He did apologize in the dressing room, but what can you say? He’s a human being and he played well but he did one enormous mistake and he cost us a goal and maybe the game.”
The Attak coach even lashed out at the league as his club had to wait almost half an hour after the game ended to get into the team’s locker room as it had been closed.
“This league is so unprofessional,” Eullaffroy said.
“We didn’t play on time, we didn’t have the picture 45 minutes before the game, we waited 25 minutes [to get to our locker room].”
On the Shooters end, an elated Pottinger acknowledged Badescu’s miscue gave Italia the lift it needed late in the game.
“A team trying to come back looks for an opportunity like that and a slip up wasting too much time resulted in a goal and gave us more momentum,” he said.
“It’s bound to happen when you’re pressing a team that much and you give up a goal, their heads drop and ours got up and we built on that momentum to get the tying goal.”
Eullaffroy believes his team’s play altered after forward Guillaume Heroux, who scored two goals in the game’s first 25 minutes to give the Attak a 2-1 lead, received a red card just before halftime after striking Shooters midfielder Frankie Tordaro in the knees.
“The turning point of this game was the red card,” he said. “Right after that, we didn’t play well at all. We lost the game not because of the referee but because of ourselves.”
But Heroux’s dismissal had the entire Attak team up in arms, including president Tony Iannitto, who stormed the field after the first half’s final whistle was called to yell at Arduini and his officiating crew.
However, the Shooters would only enjoy the one-man advantage for eight minutes in the second half as defender Alvaro Yaques was red-carded for tripping the Attak’s Yannick Rome-Gosselin, who scored the club’s third goal.
“We have a whole 45 minutes a man up and that’s all you can ask for,” Pottinger said.
“When you’re trying to come back in a game, that’s what you need and our guy goes out and I’m like, ‘Jeesh man, now we’re even and we got the two goals to make up,’ but hey, good teams find a way to pull out of any hole and prevail.
“It would have been nice to get the full points and win the game, but a tie’s better than a loss any day.”
The two clubs will next face off against each other in Trois-Rivieres this Sunday [3 p.m.] and Eullaffroy gave his players a simple message for the encounter.
“We’re going to win the next one,” he said.
But Pottinger says the Shooters will be the ones to move on to the championship finals on Oct. 24 if they can play a more disciplined and tighter defensive game.
“They’re a good team, but we know the goals they scored are our mistakes,” he said.
“We eliminate those little mistakes and we eliminate half of the chances they have. In a game where we have less mistakes and we bury our chances, we should come out victorious.”
Serbian White Eagles vs. Toronto Croatia
In the other semi-final series, the Serbian White Eagles defeated the Toronto Croatia 3-1 on Sunday night at Centennial Stadium in the first leg.
The Eagles’ Jonathan Hurtis scored two goals and forward Kirik Dimitrov scored the other for Serbian. Antonio Zupan netted the lone marker for Toronto.
The two teams will meet once again next Saturday at Centennial Stadium [4 p.m. ET].