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Ngalina powers Switchbacks past Sacramento

By Staff, 10/29/22, 11:08PM EDT


Congolese winger strikes twice, including extra time winner, for 2-1 victory and place in Western Conference Final

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – A pair of goals by Michee Ngalina sent No. 3 seed Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC to a 2-1 victory against No. 4 seed Sacramento Republic FC after extra time in the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2022 USL Championship Playoffs presented by Hisense on Saturday night, delighting a crowd of 7,075 fans at Weidner Field.

The Switchbacks will head to face No. 1 seed San Antonio FC in the Western Conference Final on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET at Toyota Field in what will be the club’s first appearance in this stage of the postseason.

The Switchbacks’ Jairo Henriquez tried to open the game with a bang with an audacious effort from 50 yards as he tried to catch Republic FC goalkeeper Danny Vitiello off his line after just 20 seconds only for Vitiello to comfortably claim the effort. After the game settled into a more balanced rhythm, though, Sacramento opened the scoring on its first real chance of the game. A long ball forward by Dan Casey sent Rodrigo Lopez in behind Colorado Springs’ defense and the veteran playmaker finished in style with a lobbed finish from 20 yards that left goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell stranded.

Colorado Springs responded strongly and Henriquez had a chance to level eight minutes later when he ghosted in at the far post to get on an angled cross by Triston Hodge from the left channel that looped just over the top-left corner. Ngalina then went close on the half-hour mark as after driving into the penalty area on the left and trying to find a teammate centrally, the ball caromed back to him for a near-post shot that was saved by Vitiello.

The Congolese winger found the equalizer for Colorado Springs eight minutes before halftime, however, as he peeled off to create space for a pass by Zach Zandi into the left side of the penalty area. Ngalina controlled and fired a low shot that took a slight deflection which helped the effort into the left side of the net.

Three minutes later, Ngalina almost bagged a second as he latched onto a through-ball by Cam Lindley and rounded Vitiello as the goalkeeper came off his line, but his finish was cleared to safety by Casey inside his own six-yard area to leave the game level at the break.

After being outshot 9-1 in the opening half, Sacramento came out more aggressively to start the second and went close to regaining the lead in the 51st minute when a free kick by Lopez from the right was headed wide at the back post by Matt LaGrassa. Another set piece from Lopez – this time a corner kick from the right – produced another chance for the visitors as Luis Felipe Fernandes steered his header from 10 yards on target toward the bottom-left corner to force a sharp save by Caldwell.

The Switchbacks’ goalkeeper was almost caught out in the 58th minute, too, as he came outside his penalty area to contest a ball over the top to Maalique Foster, but as the Jamaican looked to loop a shot over the covering defense, he didn’t make clean contact, allowing Caldwell to claim as he regained position.

After weathering Sacramento’s chances, the Switchbacks produced a golden opportunity of their own midway through the second half. A through-ball by Henriquez sprang Ngalina forward before Casey brought him down just inside the top of the penalty area, resulting in a chance from the spot. Elvis Amoh stepped up but appeared to outfox himself with a stutter step in his approach, and Vitiello got down to the shot to the bottom-right corner and kept the game level.

Ngalina tried to finish proceedings himself with 10 minutes left in regulation with a low shot that was saved by Vitiello as well, but six minutes into the extra session the 22-year-old found the decisive breakthrough. Cutting in behind his marker from the right flank, Ngalina was picked out by a slide-rule pass by Steven Echeverria and clipped a low finish past Vitiello to send the home fans into celebrations as he pulled off his now-trademark backflip.

Three minutes later, Republic FC had the chance to answer as Damia Viader flashed a first-time finish wide of the right post from the left side of the penalty area, while Jack Gurr had a golden opportunity in the 101st minute when Viader’s cross from the left was palmed to him by Caldwell, only for Gurr to snap his volleyed finish wide of the left post. There would be no way back for the visitors, however, as the Switchbacks held firm to seal their first trip to the Western Conference Final in club history. Player of the Match

Michee Ngalina, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – The young standout delivered the biggest game of his career so far with a pair of goals on eight shots while completing 4 of 6 dribbles to lead the Switchbacks through.

Scoring Summary
– Rodrigo Lopez (Dan Casey) 18’
COS – Michee Ngalina (Zach Zandi) 37’
COS – Michee Ngalina (Steven Echeverria) 96’

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