The Madison 56ers had plenty of chances Friday night against the Indiana Fire, but couldn't get anything past goalkeeper Cody Schweitzer. The Fire, meanwhile, made the most of one of their few chances, which made all the difference.
Nago Mbengue scored in the 48th minute and Schweitzer made seven saves for the clean sheet as the fourth-seeded Fire blanked the host and top-seeded 56ers 1-0 in a National Premier Soccer League Midwest Region semifinal at Breese Stevens Field.
"There's not much you can say. I thought the team played really hard right until the end," Madison coach Jim Launder said. "There's only one team that goes home happy at end of the year. That's how it is. You don't want it any other way, though. You should feel bad if you don't win at the end."
The 56ers (10-4-1) outshot Indiana 17-6 and held the Fire to just two shots on target, but still saw their six-game winning streak and season come to an end. Madison was without forward Drew Whalen, the Midwest Golden Boot winner with 11 goals, and veteran starting midfielder Keenan Newallo because of knee injuries.
"They're two guys who are pretty key," Launder said. "You talk about your leading scorer, and by a lot. And (Whalen is) so good at holding the ball up, so it's a lot of other stuff, not just scoring goals."
Indiana had its top scorer in the lineup in Mbengue, a native of Senegal who also scored in the Fire's 2-1 loss to the 56ers on June 27 in Indianapolis.
The All-Midwest Region selection was involved in most of Indiana's best chances and converted the only goal needed on this night shortly after halftime. Getting a ball from left back Tanner Witsken, Mbengue beat a defender, broke in down the left side and slotted a shot past Madison goalkeeper Joe White to the far post.
That proved to be enough offense for Schweitzer.
The 56ers had two great chances to open the scoring in the first half. In the 28th, Gideon Asante played a ball into space on the left side of the box for Tony Amolo to run on to, but Schweitzer charged off his line and disrupted the shot. Twelve minutes later, Asante lofted a picture-perfect cross from the left over a defender for Carlos Martinez, but the Venezuelan midfielder nodded his open header wide.
Schweitzer's two best saves came in an 11-minute span in the second half. He stood tall at his near post to deny midfielder Callum Glen's point-blank shot in the 57th, then leapt to tip a 20-yard drive by left back Miguel Izquierdo over the crossbar in the 68th.
"He made some good saves," Launder said of Schweitzer, who is heading into his sophomore season at Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne. "And we probably could have finished a little better."
The Fire nearly added an insurance goal in the final 20 minutes, as Mbengue got free on the left again in the 77th – nearly a carbon copy of his goal – but pushed the shot wide right this time. That was 2 minutes after midfielder Jacob Murphy saw his shouts for a penalty ignored after being taken down by Izquierdo on the right side of the box.
The teams spent most of the last 10 minutes of regulation and the nearly 10 minutes of stoppage time in the Fire's half of the field as the 56ers pushed for an equalizer.
"That's always like that when you're behind by a goal in a one-off game," Launder said. "We threw everything forward."
Center back Jack Hagstrom (Middleton) headed wide off a long free kick served in by Maranatha Baptist's Taylor Pill (Watertown) in the 82nd. Right back Brian Bultman (UW) found Martinez with a long ball in the 91st and he in turn slipped a pass to Asante bursting in on the left, but his drive was just over the crossbar.
"He had to crack it and he hit pretty well, because it bent, but it bent down too late," Launder said of Asante's shot. "It was coming down, it was just coming down 2 yards too late."
Madison's final chance was in the 97th, as Hagstrom got on another long free kick played into the box, but his flicked header went right to Schweitzer.
"We had those flurries at the end, but couldn't get a clear-cut hit," said Launder, who has led the 56ers to a record four Midwest titles (2006, '07, '10 and '12).
From the touchline
Jordayne Henry, who split time with Izquierdo at left back this season, recovered from injury and was expected to be in the 18-man roster for the match, but was sidelined after spraining his ankle playing basketball Thursday. ... Junior Boaventura, returning from a hamstring injury, started at right back but aggravated the injury and was replaced by Bultman in the 36th. ... Launder brought on Josh Thiermann (Stoughton/UW) to help bolster the attack in the 55th, but the speedster had to be subbed out a half hour later after suffering a left ankle injury on a late tackle. ... The 56ers are 100-49-24 overall in 11 seasons since starting their NPSL program in 2005. ... Newallo, the only player to have appeared in all 11 seasons, might have played his final game for the team as he is planning to move to Minnesota. ... Madison was shut out in three of its four losses this season.
July 24, 2015 NPSL Midwest Region semifinal
At Breese Stevens Field, Madison
Indiana Fire – Nago Mbengue (Tanner Witsken) 48
MADISON 56ERS: Joe White; Miguel Izquierdo, Jack Hagstrom (Felipe Mattar 90+9), Zacc Roelke, Junior Boaventura (Brian Bultman 42); Callum Glen (Wira Wama 82), Jacob Scotte-Hatherly (Taylor Pill 63); Sam Novak (Josh Thiermann 55, David Martinez 85), Carlos Martinez, Gideon Asante; Tony Amolo. Substitute not used: Scott Sibik.
INDIANA FIRE: Cody Schweitzer; Tanner Witsken (Herrison Ambe 90+3), Jack Griffith, Andy O'Donoghue, Kevin Klett; Bennett Kim, Cristian Soto; Michael Gallulo, Vincent Mitchell (Steven Bush), Jacob Murphy (Jared Bleah 76), Nago Mbengue (Ben Eklof). Substitutes not used: Conor McGoldrick, Matt Keller, Paul Harris.
Shots: M 17, I 6. Saves: M 1, I 7. Fouls: M 9, I 13. Corner kicks: M 4, I 5. Offsides: M 0, I 1. Discipline: M – Boaventura (yellow, foul, 37); I – Kim (yellow, foul, 45+1); I – Mbengue (yellow, simulation, 81); M – C. Martinez (yellow, dissent, 81); M – Roelke (yellow, foul, 84).
Friday's semifinal: AFC Cleveland 2, Detroit City FC 1
Antonio Manfut and second-half sub Brian Potocnik scored as third-seeded AFC Cleveland got past Rust Belt Derby rival Detroit City FC in Friday's first semifinal at Breese Stevens.
Manfut gave the Royals (9-2-2) the lead in the 7th when his shot from the left side pinged off the left post and in, and Potocnik doubled the lead by slotting home in the 75th.
Second-seeded Detroit City (8-3-2) pulled one back through sub Charlie MacInnes just a minute later but couldn't find an equalizer – keeper Alex Ivanov made a great save on MacInnes' shot from the left side in the 91st as Cleveland held on to avenge one of its regular-season losses.
Saturday's final: Indiana Fire 3, AFC Cleveland 1
Vincent Mitchell scored the go-ahead goal in first-half stoppage time and drew a penalty kick that center back Jack Griffith converted in the 69th as the Fire won their first Midwest title with a 3-1 victory over AFC Cleveland.
Right back Kevin Klett also scored and Schweitzer made seven saves for Indiana, which avenged both of its losses with its playoff wins. The Fire were outshot 33-10 on the weekend and had just five shots on goal, but scored four times, while Schweitzer made 14 saves and allowed only one goal – that an own goal off a deflection.
Indiana (9-2-3) is seeded third in the NPSL national semifinals and plays at South Region champion Chattanooga FC (16-1-2) on Saturday night. Northeast Region winner New York Cosmos B (13-0-1) is the top seed for the final four and plays host to West Region champion CD Aguiluchos USA (9-4-2) in the other semifinal. The NPSL final is set for Aug. 8.