Nazeem Bartman had a lot on his mind.
The 28-year-old striker marked the two-year anniversary of his father’s passing on Wednesday, then made his USL League One debut as a second-half substitute for his new club, Forward Madison, on Saturday following a couple years toiling in USL League Two and NISA.
After he scored deep into stoppage time against Chattanooga Red Wolves to give Forward Madison a draw and a dramatic point on the road, he covered his face and fell to his knees, overcome in the moment.
“It was emotional,” he said after the game.
The goal, scored on a rebound of a Jeremiah Streng effort in the 95th minute, stunned the 2,618 in attendance in the dying moments of an evenly contested match.
The Mingos got off to a slow start, struggling to connect passes or maintain possession for much of the first half and conceding a Jimmie Villalobos goal in the 41st minute.
“I thought we struggled in the first half,” said head coach Matt Glaeser after his managerial debut. I didn’t think we did the things that we had spoken about throughout the course of preseason and then the build up to the game. And I thought we were a little bit nervous, thought we were a little bit slow to make decisions to circulate the ball. I was pretty unhappy with the first half. It wasn’t just any one player. It was collective. We just didn’t execute.”
After the break, Bartman took over for Rojay Smith and Matheus Cassini replaced Audi Jepson, and the whole team seemed to have gained a step.
“I thought we were moving the ball a little bit more quickly. We were able to get into their half more and create a couple of chances,” Glaeser said.
Despite the newfound energy, Villalobos nearly doubled the lead for the Red Wolves in the 54th minute, stealing a ball off the shoelaces of Christian Enriquez and springing forward to find himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Phil Breno right around the penalty spot. Breno was up to the task, however, and was able to deflect the shot wide.
Well into the allotted five additional minutes at the end of the match, with Forward Madison pressing for an equalizer, Red Wolves striker Rafael Mentzingen intercepted a pass to gain possession. The Red Wolves sensed an opportunity to put the game away in style, and cascaded forward, only to see their chance snuffed out by Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu, who carried it forward and played it to Cassini, who found Abdou Mbacke-Thiam on the right side of the Chattanooga penalty area. Mbacke-Thiam played a perfectly weighted pass inside the area to Wheeler-Omiunu, who’d continued his run all the way from the Madison defensive area. With the Red Wolves pushing forward, Chattanooga goalkeeper Tor Saunders found himself quite alone and compelled to leave his line to cut off Wheeler-Omiunu’s shooting angle. Wheeler-Omiunu found Streng at the penalty spot, but his spinning effort only found the foot of a Chattanooga defender. However, the ball rebounded off of that foot and straight out toward the top of the 18-yard box, where Bartman found it and hammered it home.
“I guess I was just in the right spot at the right time,” Bartman said.
“He does a nice job with floating underneath and finding pockets of space and taking people on getting in the box,” Glaeser said of Bartman.
Some of the game stats indicate the even matchup that ended in the draw. Madison took 10 shots (three on target) to Chattanooga’s 11 (two on target), for example. Madison held the advantage in most other statistical categories, though, holding 58 percent of the possession and completing 80.3 percent of their passes, compared to Chattanooga’s 70.5 percent.
Forward Madison next plays at Breese Stevens Field in Madison, where they host Cleveland SC of the National Premier Soccer League Midwest Region’s Rust Belt Conference in the second round of the US Open Cup. USL League One play continues next Saturday as the Mingos host refending league champions Union Omaha.