photo by Victor Palkaninec
By FRANCO PANIZO
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Puerto Rico Islanders won't soon forget the name Brian Shriver.
A week after scoring the final goal in the Fort Lauderdale Strikers' 3-1 road win against Puerto Rico, Shriver bagged a brace in the second leg of the NASL semifinals series to give the hosts a 2-1 victory in front of 4,233 fans at Lockhart Stadium on Saturday night.
Shriver scored in each half to help give Fort Lauderdale a 5-2 aggregate score line and advancement to the NASL Championship Series. The Strikers will meet with NSC Minnesota Stars in the two-legged championship series after the latter team defeated the Carolina RailHawks in a dramatic match that ended in a shootout on Saturday.
"We knew we had a two-goal lead, but a two-goal lead in soccer is not easy to keep," said Strikers head coach Daryl Shore. "All week in practice we didn't even think about defending and defending. We talked about attacking and playing in their half of the field, and I think for the most part we did that."
As much as Shore may have stressed offense, Fort Lauderdale began the game absorbing the pressure from a Puerto Rico side needing to make up a two-goal deficit.
Attempting to hit back on the counter, the Strikers almost gave up an early lead, but Jonathan Fana's 12th-minute shot was saved by goalkeeper Matt Glaeser.
Seven minutes later, the hosts went ahead as midfielder Walter Restrepo found Shriver with a sublime pass over the top of the defense. Shriver made a well-timed run to find the ball, and turned and hit a left-footed finish past Islanders goalkeeper Ray Burse.
Shriver almost doubled the lead a minute before halftime, but his attempt from the right side of the penalty area was denied by Burse.
That miss allowed Puerto Rico to tie the game in the 55th minute, as midfielder David Foley smashed a shot into the back of the net after a scramble in the box following a corner kick.
"Came out in the second half, had a little bit of a nervous start," said Shore. "But the thing was, we said it at halftime, if they get the goal, don't panic and don't sweat it. Let's just be relaxed and keep our composure."
Even after giving up the goal, the Strikers continued to press forward as they tried to cement their place in the championship series.
Shriver did just that for Fort Lauderdale four minutes after the equalizer was scored when he netted his fifth goal of the playoffs. With the Islanders desperately throwing numbers forward, Shriver capitalized on a counter attack by dribbling down the left and curling a right-footed shot from about 10 yards out.
"For any striker, it's always about form. It's always about confidence," said Shriver, who scored just six goals in 25 regular season games this year. "You miss some, but you've got to have a short memory and just keep going. I think my first goal was my first shot. For me, obviously, it felt good."
With time winding down, the Islanders attempted to throw everyone into the attack. That almost led to several more goals for Fort Lauderdale, but poor execution in the final third saw the game end 2-1.
The result means the Strikers will meet Minnesota in the two-legged final after the Stars beat Carolina 5-3 on penalty kicks. Minnesota's shootout win came in a wild affair that ended 4-4 on aggregate after the RailHawks erased the 1-0 deficit from the first leg of their semifinals series.
The Stars will host Fort Lauderdale in the first leg of the championship on Oct. 22. The decisive game will be played at Lockhart Stadium on Oct. 29.