Home Sports Forward Madison Secures Playoff Spot with 1-0 Road Win

Forward Madison Secures Playoff Spot with 1-0 Road Win

Josiel Nuñez works through Lansing defenders. Photo supplied.

They say defense wins championships, and it may very well have been the defense that sent Forward Madison FC on its way to one.

The Flamingos closed the regular season with an impressive 1-0 win over second-place Lansing Ignite thanks to JC Banks’ goal just before halftime and a stifling midfield and defensive effort that kept a potent Lansing attack frustrated all afternoon.

The win ended Ignites’ 12-match unbeaten streak and handed Lansing only its second home loss — and its first since April 26, the day before Madison’s home opener, more than five months ago.

The Flamingos came into the match with all to play for, as a 1:1 draw at Tucson last weekend failed to secure a playoff spot, meaning they needed a win to make the top four. But they didn’t seem nervous or tentative, coming out strongly and creating chances in the first minutes. 

Things took a turn against the visitors in the 15th minute, as striker Danny Tenorio was forced to come off in favor of Brian Bement after a collision at midfield. Tenorio missed the first two months of the season with a knee injury. He could be seen after the match with a brace on his right leg and crutches.

The match settled in and Lansing held the bulk of the possession, but Madison’s midfield and backline stifled any threat Lansing attempted to mount. In fact, Lansing’s normally potent offense didn’t even get a shot on target until the 85th minute.

“Obviously (Lansing) has a great group going forward, but to be honest with you, it’s not about our back line, it’s about us as a unit,” said Forward Madison center back and captain Connor Tobin. “To me a couple of guys really stood out when we talk about the defensive side of it tonight. I think one, if I have to single a guy out, is (striker) Don Smart. Don’s willingness to compete tonight, and actually put himself into fifty-fifties and to do the hard work going the other way, was a huge difference. And another one was (midfielder) Josie (Nuñez). I know both guys want to affect it going the other way, but their willingness to compete for us … they made our jobs so easy tonight. They, to me, were two guys that made a huge difference. That doesn’t necessarily show up in the stat line, but their performance tonight, from both of them, was outstanding.”

Despite holding only 31 percent of the possession, the Flamingos were able to break down the Lansing defense with a smart series of passes just before half time. Midfielder JC Banks gained possession at the midline, and pushed the ball forward to Bement, who played a wide diagonal ball to right back Carter Manley, who overplayed a cross across the face of goal. Smart was able to race to the end line and keep the ball in play and cut it back to the center of the box. With the Lansing defense stretched to cover Manley’s cross, Smart found Banks standing all alone about six yards from goal, and the Milwaukee native was never going to miss from there.

Madison could have doubled the lead when Banks was taken down in the box early in the second half, but Lansing keeper Stefan Clevelan guessed right and snuffed out Smart’s penalty attempt.

By the end, Madison had unleashed 17 shots, seven on target, to Lansing’s nine, with only one on target. 

That one nearly ended Forward Madison’s playoff hopes, as a draw would not have been enough to ensure a spot in the top four. Lansing striker Rafael Metzingen let a shot fly from about 20 yards but it was blocked by Madison midfielder Eric Leonard, but Metzingen was able to line up another effort on the rebound that looked bound for the back of the net. But Ryan Coulter, who had little work to do up until that point, was up to the task and got his hands to the shot, diving to his left, and kept the clean sheet, and Forward Madison was able to see out the last few minutes and secure the fourth and final spot in the playoffs.

Forward Madison has now allowed only three goals in its last six matches. The high-flying offense of North Texas SC will surely test that streak in the semifinal on Saturday in Dallas.

“They’re a good team. They won the regular season for a reason. They’re the number one seed for a reason,” Tobin said. “So we have respect for them, but at the same time, we have full confidence in our group. We have talked about since the beginning part of the year, if we’re going to be successful as a team, we’ve got to get results on the road. As of late, we’ve been fairly good on the road, so this is a continuation for our guys. It’s a tough place to go, but I have full confidence if we fight for one another like we did tonight.”

Madison is the only team to beat North Texas twice this season — a 4-1 drubbing on June 22 and a 1-0 result on September. In both of those games, though, North Texas was not at full strength, leaving top scorers Ricardo Pepi and Ronaldo Damus at home when they visited Madison. Both times Madison has faced North Texas in Dallas and at full strength, North Texas came out on top — 1-0 on a 95th minute penalty on April 13, and a 3-1 loss in which the Texans scored twice in the first 10 minutes on May 22.

Forward Madison was able to celebrate its win with a sizeable contingent of fans, as about 150 made the trip by bus, rolling out of Madison at 5 am Saturday.

“Unbelievable,” Tobin said of the support. “I mean, we can talk a lot about the group inside the locker room, and to be fair the boys deserve a lot of credit. But I don’t think enough can be (said) about The Flock and just in general, the supporters and the community that all the fans have created. In a lot of ways, they’ve willed us into the playoffs. What they’ve done, and how they push the team forward. It’s hard to articulate the impact that’s had on the group inside the locker room, and how that’s translated onto the results this year. But I think a lot of it comes down to what they’ve done, and they are truly something special.”