Forward Madison got its first first-half goal of the season and held 70 percent of the possession, but it wasn’t enough to overcome an organized Omaha defense and two defensive mishaps, and the Flamingos fell for the first time this year, 2-1 to the Owls.
Omaha broke through early, in just the seventh minute. Devin Boyce put a ball across the face of goal toward Emir Alihodzic. Madison midfielder Audi Jepson stepped in to intervene and seemed to put it into his own net for the Mingos’ second own-goal in as many matches. Defender Christian Díaz put one in for Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday.
Forward Madison’s Jake Keegan leveled matters in the 35th, taking a forward pass from Justin Sukow and despite being draped in defenders, unleashing a blistering shot from 18 yards that left Omaha goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu flat-footed.
Omaha went ahead for good just six minutes into the second half. A quick restart after a foul caught Madison on their heels, and Alihodzic scored a header on an uncontested cross from Boyce.
It was a sluggish start, as has been Forward Madison’s habit this season — they had scored all eight goals in the second halves of the season’s first five games before Keegan’s strike Sunday. Conditions may have played a part as well, as the thermometer at gametime read 88 degrees.
“Omaha was more than happy to sit off us and we want to play a higher tempo,” Keegan said. “When it’s 90 at 5:00 that plays a factor … that’s not an excuse, just a reality.”
It was the second time Madison had seen Omaha in two weeks. Madison took the previous matchup 1-0, and Omaha shifted to a 4-3-3 formation this time around and were content to allow the Mingos the bulk of the possession and strike on the counter. Madison held nearly 70 percent of the ball but managed only 10 shots, and only three on target.
“It took us a little bit of time to get used to their shift in shape,” said head coach Carl Craig. “Let’s be honest, we gave two rubbish goals away. We cannot be that lax and expect to go far in the league.”
Craig said fatigue was a factor — this was Madison’s fourth match in 12 days, which included a weeklong road trip to Statesboro, Georgia and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“We beat ourselves tonight,” said center back and captain Connor Tobin. “We didn’t do enough to win. Energy, details, focus (were all lacking).”
Keegan said the habit the club has formed over its last three games — going behind and playing catch-up — isn’t sustainable.
“We’ve been great (at coming from behind) but at the same time, if we keep doing that, we’re not going to have success,” he said.
“It comes down to standards,” Tobin said. “It’s a long season. We’ve got a young group. We’ve got to get better at holding those standards every day.”
“Plenty to go,” Craig said. “We’ve got a full week to get rested up. There’s some heavy legs.”
“We’ve got (Omaha) two more times. We’ll see them plenty,” Keegan said.
Forward Madison takes the field again Saturday, hosting RIchmond Kickers at Breese Stevens Field. Madison’s home stadium will return to near-full capacity, which could mean Sunday night’s attendance of just over 2,100 could be doubled.