It wasn’t Daniel Haber’s first game winner this year, but it was certainly the most dramatic to date.
The 24 year-old fired in the game winner in the 89th minute to give WFC2 a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Oklahoma City Energy in the Western Conference Semifinals.
“All year we’ve been resilient and we feel like we’ve been the underdog and overlooked,” said Haber. “We knew we were going to be fighting until the end and I got to give credit to the guys who made the play. Tommy Gardiner went in there and he got a deflection [on Thomas Sanner’s cross] and the ball popped to me and I just tried to stay as composed as I could.”
“He’s got a killer instinct, he’s one of the best finishers on the team,” WFC2 captain Kyle Greig said of Haber.
The ‘Caps needed to show their resilience after seeing a 2-0 second half lead squandered by the 80th minute as Timo Pitter’s gorgeous curling effort had drawn the game level. In the end, the visitor’s comeback just set the stage for Haber to play the role of hero again, having already scored late winners twice this season already.
Second half substitute Thomas Sanner did well to get around his mark on the right wing before whipping in a cross that took a deflection before falling for Haber near the penalty spot. The Toronto native showed incredible composure, especially considering the circumstances, to pull the ball onto his weaker left foot find the bottom corner through a defender’s legs.
“Football’s about characters and having character, and I think in our group we have character and characters,” said head coach Alan Koch. “Full credit to Daniel Haber, he’s been brilliant in training, his finishing has been first class and he obviously executed today.”
The drama that the game ended with was unforeseen through the first hour of play as WFC2 looked poised to cruise into the Western Conference Finals.
Kianz Froese scored his second in as many games as his free kick directed for the back post left Energy keeper Cody Laurendi rooted to the spot as the ball somehow went untouched by the mass of bodies looking to get a head on it.
Greig looked to have put the game away early in the second half as Kadin Chung’s rampaging run inside from the right set the table for the captain to coolly side foot home from 17 yards out for the 2-0 lead.
The visitor’s didn’t lay down from their though. Showing the same spirit that led them to a late comeback win over Rio Grande last week, Oklahoma City started to come in waves at WFC2.
Spencer Richey had to sprawl to save a Colin Bonner header at the back post in the 59th.
A minute later Danny Konig converted a loose ball off of a corner to get the Energy on the board.
Pitter would equalize with ten minutes remaining as the midfielder collected a half cleared corner and curled a left footed shot by the outstretched Richey.
The win means that WFC2 could potentially host the Western Finals next week if the 8th seeded Orange County Blues can knock off 4th seeded Swope Park in the other semifinal.
For now though, the Haber and the team will savour this one.
“In North American soccer it’s a playoff system so when we play all year and there are different games that have special moments at the end but I don’t think there’s any feeling like winning a game like that at the end in the playoffs.”