Don Smart scored twice, Josiel Nuñez scored in his return from suspension and JC Banks added another as Forward Madison handed North Texas SC just its second loss of the season in front of 4,211 rabid fans at Breese Stevens Field in Madison.
North Texas won both of the previous fixtures, both in Frisco, Texas. The first, in just the second game of the season, was decided by a penalty deep into stoppage time. The second was a rout the other way, as North Texas scored twice in the first 10 minutes and went on to win 3-1.
But it turns out playing at Breese Stevens is a different and more difficult experience.
“We’ve got the best home field advantage in the league, and we told the guys that we need to start rewarding our fans,” Forward Madison Head Coach Daryl Shore said. “We’re starting to play better, we’re a little bit more rested, so [we’ve] got to keep going.”
North Texas came to Madison short-handed, with just three players on the bench and 38-year-old assistant coach Michel Garbini Pereira starting in midfield. Lead-leaguing scorer Ricardo Pepi did not make the trip, having been signed by North Texas MLS parent club FC Dallas on Friday.
Ronaldo Damus equaled Pepi’s seven-goal total on the season, scoring his fourth in two games in the 15th minute, outjumping everyone to head a corner kick past Madison goalkeeper Bryan Sylvestre.
Conceding the goal seemed to energize Forward Madison, as the Flamingos created several opportunities and North Texas didn’t get another shot on target in the first half. Meanwhile Don Smart followed a Brandon Eaton long-range shot and was able to finish the rebound in the 33rd minute to level the score.
The Flamingos picked up where they left off in the second, pushing steady pressure which was finally rewarded when Eaton picked the pocket of a North Texas midfielder and pushed a nicely weighted diagonal through ball to Smart, who took one touch and put a shot straight over the head of North Texas keeper Carlos Aviles.
Forward Madison didn’t let up, and Smart got involved again, playing a diagonal pass to Josiel Nuñez, who took two touches to get past a defender and scored with his left foot in the lower corner at the near post. Nuñez was playing his first match in three weeks after earning a red card for questioning the referee at the end of the teams loss to Lansing on June 1 and being suspended for last week’s match at Orlando by the team.
Milwaukee native JC Banks finished the scoring in the 84th minute, with North Texas pushing forward and leaving its backline relatively unprotected. A midfield turnover allowed Jeff Michaud to play a long through ball to Banks who ran directly at two defenders and put a low shot past them and Aviles from 18 yards away.
“From the beginning the coach told us not to back off, just keep going, just keep going,” Smart said. “The only way to win this game [was] energy, and all of the guys gave their best out here today and we came out with a victory.”
The win was the most convincing league win of the season, the first time the Flamingos have scored more than two in USL League One competition and the most goals scored in competitive play since the 3-0 win over El Paso Locomotive in the second round of the US Open Cup on May 15.
The result lifted the Forward Madison out of last place in the tightly-packed League One table, all the way to seventh, and knocked North Texas out of the top spot, which is now held by South Georgia Tormenta. With 14 points, Forward Madison remains just four points out of playoff position.
The Flamingos will now look to take their newfound goal-scoring propensity on the road. The next three fixtures are away from the friendly confines of Breese Stevens Field, which leads the league in average attendance.
Forward Madison played in their pink alternate jerseys, celebrating on the eve of National Plastic Flamingo Day, which is June 23.
Forward Madison will host MLS partner club Minnesota United in a friendly on Tuesday.