Arsenal Men's Team First to Capture the GPSL Premier League Title

July 28th 2013, The Arsenal FC of PA First team wins the Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League (GPSL) Premier Division title.  After a regular season record of 6-3 saw the team to a third place league position and a playoff berth, the two previous league champions would be faced in semifinal and final knockout games.

 

 

The semifinal saw Arsenal pitted against the second seeded and 2011 champions Oak Avalon. In a highly eventful game, in which Arsenal was reduced to 9 men, the team managed to force a penalty shootout after a great defensive display led to a 2-2 tie after extra time.  Two goals from player of the season Nat Baako and a man of the match performance from Troye Kiernan at center back were enough to send the game into a shootout.  Successful conversions from Andrea Conte, Rami Bensasi, Nat Baako and Matthew Kiernan had Arsenal holding a one goal advantage going into the fifth and final round of spot kicks.  Goalkeeper, Brenden Alfery stepped up and calmly slotted the winning penalty into the corner to take the team to its first Premier League Final.

For the first time the GPSL Premier Division Final was to be held at the Highmark Stadium in Station Square. Arsenal would face the reigning champion, top seeded and undefeated Century United Brahs in their maiden championship game.

The first half was a cagey affair with very few chances for either side early on. Century were able to force several set piece opportunities but the defense of Steven Redhead, Mark Taylor, Matthew Kiernan, Trevor Gordon and Zach Johnson stood firm, limiting the opposition to very few clear cut chances.  Some tidy work in the midfield from Anthony Wilkinson, Aaron Lucas and Hank Goldman led to a strong spell of possession for the team and allowed wingers Rami Bensasi and Andrea Conte to become more prominent in the game.

This spell of possession resulted in a number of set piece opportunities for Arsenal and when a Bensasi corner was deflected into Century’s net by a defender, a 1-0 lead was established and taken into the half time break.

The second half got off to an absolute flier for Arsenal. The team picked up possession deep inside its own half and very deliberately set about establishing its passing rhythm.  The ball was circulated across the back line and was moved into the midfield and up to center forward Andrew Starcevic, who brought the ball down and played it onto Nat Baako who was surging up from the midfield.  Baako calmly took the ball down and unleashed a stunning half volley into the top corner of the net with his left foot.  The finish was the culmination of a fifteen pass Arsenal move and put the team firmly in control of the tie.

Some great target play and off the ball movement from the team’s leading scorer Sean Regan kept the game in the Century half of the field for the next ten minutes and looked to have Arsenal heading for the title.

However, the last 30 minutes was to be a completely story. Century began to take control of the game and started to force some great opportunities.  On 70 minutes one of these opportunities was converted and a nervous last 20 minutes lay ahead.

With the pressure mounting Century were thwarted by a string of top class saves from man of the match Brenden Alfery, who produced a display fit to win any final. A fantastic diving save to his right in the dying moments from Alfery was to prove the final action of an absorbing contest and Arsenal were crowned GPSL Premier League Champions with a 2-1 score line.

This was a great achievement for the club and the team in spite of missing several key players for the final match.  Injuries and suspensions to Jon Murphy, Carlos Garcia, Nick Pfeiffer, Steve Carraway, Sean Dickerson and Jack Dickens deprived the squad of players who had a massive impact during the regular season and proved that the value of a strong squad is essential to success.

The team had a strong international theme this year with players from Ghana, Columbia, England and Italy combining with the home grown players from the Arsenal youth program in Pittsburgh. Of the 23 man active roster, no fewer than 17 of the squad are current or former Arsenal youth players and/or coaches. This is a fantastic reflection of the club and its high quality staff and will provide strong continuity for years to come.