Medina's late goal against North Meck SC keeps Fire U-15/16 team's hopes alive
By Curt Herron
With their hopes of staying alive in the USSDA playoffs fading away, the Fire Academy's U-15/16 team desperately needed a big play Sunday night.
And after Joel Salmeron was tackled just outside of the box in the 80th minute, Jesus Medina saw to it that the Fire's postseason would continue.
Medina directed a free kick that eluded North Meck SC's keeper and found the opposite side of the net to account for the lone score in the match.
As a result of its dramatic 1-0 win at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas, Chicago now has a shot of moving on to the national finals in Milwaukee.
The Fire (13-6-6) must win Tuesday's finale at 11 a.m. over South Carolina United FC and they also need North Meck to tie or defeat PA Classics.
That scenario was assured after PA Classics overcame a pair of scores by the South Carolinians in the first 10 minutes to settle for a 2-2 draw.
PA Classics, which beat the Fire 1-0 in Saturday's opener, is 1-0-1 in the pool, the Fire and North Meck are 1-1 and South Carolina is at 0-1-1.
North Meck (18-7-2), which beat South Carolina 2-1 on Saturday, was just moments away from controlling its destiny heading into Tuesday's play.
Instead, the North Carolina side now must defeat PA Classics and hope that the Fire either ties or loses to South Carolina if it is to advance.
In a season filled with scoring struggles, the Fire seemed to be on the verge of settling for yet another 0-0 draw at the worst possible time.
Despite having some great chances at the start of the match and possessing a strong wind edge after the break, the Fire could not find the net.
North Meck keeper Jonathan Davis managed to stop everything that came his way until Medina took a page out of a book that he had used earlier.
After getting denied on a similar free kick earlier in the second half, Medina sent in a bit of a different attempt and this time it succeeded.
That resulted in a wild celebration for the Fire, who rushed to the stands where they met the U-17/18 squad, who were providing vocal support.
"My thoughts on the free kick were the same as on the one I had about 20 minutes earlier," Medina said. "But this time the keeper was closer to the other post.
"We kept pushing the whole game, busting our butts and forcing things to try to get a score. It was either stay alive or go home and we chose to stay alive."
The Fire started the second half with a flurry, beginning with a Salmeron corner that went to Cody Witkowski, who was denied on a short shot.
After Medina saw a long free kick halted, he later had an attempt deflected for a corner, on which Salmeron sent a liner that went to Davis.
Chicago kept the heat on at the half's midpoint as Louis Bennett's long free kick was headed away, resulting in another Salmeron corner kick.
After that corner was punched away by North Meck's keeper, Salmeron fired in a line drive, which was hauled in to put a halt to that sequence.
Fire keeper Christian Lomeli chipped in with a long free kick that went to his counterpart before making a diving stop of his own a bit later.
North Meck kept the Fire at bay much of the rest of the way before the late foul produced Medina's match-winning score in the final moments.
The Charlotte-area side created the first real good scoring opportunity in the match, which came around the midway mark of the opening half.
A short attempt was cleared by Charlie Oliver, who tumbled into the net in the process, before a subsequent corner kick was lined to Lomeli.
Not long after that, Medina just missed connecting with an open Francisco Sajuan, who sent an attempt just wide of the net a short time later.
In the final minutes of the opening half, North Meck's Austin Stamey sent in a pair of corner kicks which resulted in threatening attempts.
"We had the right motivation from the beginning of the game," Drew Conner said. "And we played a pretty good first half and created a lot of things.
"Then we got pumped up because we knew we had the wind in the second half. Luckily we got that foul at the top of the box at the end and got the goal."