The Tri-Cities FC Otters extended their unbeaten streak to three games Saturday night when they played to a 2-2 draw with the North Carolina Fusion U-23 in a USL League Two soccer game on a rain-soaked evening at Kermit Tipton Stadium.
The Fusion earned the tie thanks to a late penalty kick after the ball skipped off the wet turf and struck an Otters defender in the hand.
“There’s no reason to be disappointed,” said Otters coach David Strickland, whose team had won its two previous games. “It was a good match. An unlucky break on our part to get that penalty on us. We played very well all night. We were organized. I felt like every time we went forward, we were dangerous.”
Taylor Gray of the Otters got the scoring opened in the 21st minute with his team-leading third goal of the season and the home team held the lead for 34 minutes. North Carolina’s Faisal Almubaslat evened things up with a shot from inside the penalty area in the 55th minute
The Fusion’s advantage lasted less than a minute thanks to Otters forward Tracey Freddie, who scored from close range 20 seconds later.
That left the Otters clinging to a 2-1 lead when the fateful penalty occurred. Bruno Lapa scored from the spot in the 74th minute to give the Fusion the equalizer.
The result left the Otters 2-1-2 in league play. The Fusion is 4-4-1.
The Fusion nearly stole the game in the closing minutes but were thwarted twice by the Otters. With five minutes left, Tri-Cities goalkeeper Carlos Rubio made a sprawling save on a shot that seemed destined for the back of the net.
On the ensuing corner kick, a header was on its way into the upper left corner when Freddie headed it out of danger.
“I think that shows good resilience that we defended that well,” Strickland said. “They had the ball long periods of time.”
FRANTIC FINAL PLAY
The draw wasn’t certain until the final second when a long throw-in by Tri-Cities’ Blake Barribeau bounced in front of the Fusion goal. An Otter got a foot on it, but the ball wound up in goalkeeper Josh Perryman’s arms as the final whistle blew.
“Holy smokes,” Strickland said. “That last four minutes we were so dangerous.”
Johnson City native John Lucchesi, who plays at East Tennessee State, played right back for the Fusion. The game was played on the field where Lucchesi starred for Science Hill High School.
“It was a good feeling,” Lucchesi said. “A lot of good memories here.”
Tri-Cities hits the road for an exhibition game at Greenville (S.C.) FC on Thursday. The Otters’ next three league games are at home, beginning with a June 15 matchup with Wake FC.