It’s easy to think that quality soccer isn’t on offer in the US right now. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, though, as the climax of the UPSL season across the nation has come upon us here in December.
A cold front has also come upon us here in Georgia, but I braved the (literally) freezing weather for a couple of hours last Saturday to watch two of the top three clubs in the Atlanta Caribbean division of UPSL.
Ginga Atlanta, the Peach State’s representatives of the Brazilian soccer academy and sportswear brand, were the undisputed favorites to win, just as they had done all 13 regular season matches before. Saturday’s fight in Fulton County was their final hurdle before achieving the first perfect regular season in the division’s history.
Standing in their way, though, was a more than formidable opponent. LSA Limeño, the second team of LSA Athletico of NPSL, occupied third place in the league table going into the final day. They also had a bad taste in their mouths after a tough 2-3 loss at home in the reverse fixture, so Limeño had more than enough reason to get up for the match.
It was instantly clear that this was going to be a quality game of soccer. Both sides were sharp from the time they hit the pitch for warmups, and although no playoff eligibility or seeding was on the line, I could just sense the competitiveness from both sets of players.
My sense quickly became reality, as Ginga turned on the attacking pressure from the opening whistle. Powered by league-leading scorer, Belize international, and former Georgia Revolution striker Deon McCaulay, the attack was potent and involved all ten outfield players. Ginga built from the back, switched the play often, and dealt blows to LSA’s defense with incisive balls through the middle.
Limeño responded well to the pressure during the first quarter of the game and even posed a threat on the counter, giving the impression that it would take a moment of magic to break the deadlock. That’s exactly what #7 Siquiera (only know last names for a few of these guys) delivered in the 21st minute with a curled effort from outside the box that was worthy of a SC Top 10 placing. The keeper was left grasping for air, and Ginga jumped at the chance to build on their momentum and grow the lead.
The visitors continued to defend resolutely (doing so in some SHARP yellow and blue kits, by the way), but conceded after another moment of brilliance from far out. This time, former Atlanta United man Jeffery Otoo, originally from Ghana, delivered an inch-perfect strike from at least 30 yards from goal that kissed the post on its way in. Otoo was good value for the goal from his holding midfield role, proving a player of his quality should be much higher up the league system.
Eight minutes later, though, a headed goal from a corner kick gave LSA hope heading into halftime. They were equally good on the ball despite having much less possession, and Ginga’s attacking mindset saw them caught out on the other end to make it 2-1.
That wasn’t the end of the scoring in the first 45, though, as #12 Harmon made sure of that with yet another golazo. LSA themselves were attacking brightly win a bid to equalize, but were caught out and mercilessly punished on a 3v2 counter that Harmon finished coolly.
That sent both teams into the halftime team talk at 3-1 in favor of Ginga, but with LSA feeling they were capable of turning the result around in the second period of play.
The half delivered 16 shots between the two sides, nine coming from Ginga, as well as four corners, three of which went to LSA.
As it turned out, Ginga only made the scoreline worse for the away team when center back #4 found the back of the net on a quality header, rising above the defenders and seemingly putting the game to bed after 56 minutes.
Things got chippy as the game wore on, though, and the tension came to a head with a reckless challenge in the middle of the park from a Ginga player. He was sent off and a scuffle resulted, and the 69th minute challenge wasn’t fully resolved until well into the 72nd minute. That was yet another lifeline for Limeño, but this time, they didn’t find a way back into the game.
Ginga finished the regular season 14-0-0, and cruised to the first seed in the playoffs starting this Sunday, December 13. They match up against FC Matata, the fourth seed and longtime division members, at 4 PM as the second piece of a doubleheader at Silverbacks Park in Atlanta.
Meanwhile, LSA will have to get over the loss quickly, as they’ll face second place finishers Seas Jamaica United in the first semifinal at 2 PM. Limeño beat Seas Jamaica in their most recent meeting 3-1, but the Caribbean outfit got the better of their opponents in their first game in a 5-4 barnstormer. This one should provide plenty of action and could really go either way. Both clubs will be looking forward to a potential third bite at the cherry against Ginga in the final next week.
smallworld will be live at the scene for both matches, providing match updates on Twitter and giving a full recap of the afternoon’s action after it’s all over! Be sure to get out there yourself if you’re in the Atlanta area.
Until then, stay weird and support local soccer!