Forward Madison FC’s goal-scoring woes continued but the team rode a stellar defensive effort to a 1-0 victory over Orlando City B in a game that could have ended in a much more lopsided scoreline before a record-setting crowd of 4,539 Saturday night.
The Flamingos dominated every statistical category and several sure scoring chances went begging, including a missed penalty in the 27th minute, but the defense held Orlando to just one shot on goal, a free kick in the 88th minute that goalkeeper Dayne St. Claire handled with little difficulty.
Forward Madison had already dominated possession and chances for the first half-hour when Oliver White was taken down in the box, but Don Smart put the penalty just wide to the right.
Forward Madison appeared to take the lead when JC Banks headed a corner kick into the back of the net in the 32nd minute, but the goal was waved off for a handball.
The team were able to shrug off those near-misses though, finally tallying in the 57th minute. A series of short, crisp passes led to a nicely weighted through ball from Josiel Nuñez onto the diagonal run of JC Banks, who turned and slotted the ball past Orlando keeper Christian Herrera.
“We knew the goal was going to come at halftime,” said head coach Daryle Shore after the match. “We knew it was going to come, we knew it was going to come. But we brought the right attitude to the whole game.”
With 17 shots, five on target, Forward Madison came within inches of adding to their tally several times throughout.
“We definitely should have put the game away by a couple of goals,” Banks said. “We had some really good opportunities that we didn’t finish. So we made it hard on ourselves, but we got the three points.”
“We didn’t have a good night with our finishing. So our product in the final third wasn’t good enough. But what was good enough was our desire, our drive,” Shore said. “We kept pushing the game and we were very good defensively tonight. We didn’t give up a lot of chances until the end where we gave up two set pieces. We got to clean that up. But defensively as a group, very, very good.”
The win puts Forward Madison within three points of a playoff spot, but they remain in eighth place in the 10-team league, meaning they have to leapfrog a few other clubs to be in contention for the postseason. With eleven games to play, Shore said the team needs at least a win or a draw in every match.
“What we told our guys is our playoffs started tonight,” he said. “We have to play like every game is a playoff game. With a playoff mentality it’s not going to be pretty, but if you win 1-0, you’ll take it.”
That playoff attitude led to a chippy, emotional game in which referee Laura Rodriguez issued eight yellow cards.
For his part, Banks is confident the club has what it takes to finish the regular season in the top four.
“One hundred percent,” he said of the team’s chances to make the playoffs. “I’m in the wrong business if I don’t think we’re 100 percent going to be in.”
The crowd of 4,539 was the largest in the brief history of USL League One, which averages fewer than 2,000 fans per game at most venues. Only friendlies against top international competition have drawn larger crowds in Madison.
“I think the fans are realizing whether we win or lose, we’re bringing everything we have and so it’s very exciting,” Shore said. “You have to give credit to the fans that keep coming and keep coming. Our guys live off of this. They really do strive off of what our fans bring to us.”
After a stretch of ten days without a match, the Flamingos have another busy week, playing away at Toronto FC II on Wednesday before returning to Breese Stevens to face Tucson. Both of those games have playoff implications as both sit ahead of Madison on the league table.