A tie never felt so good.
Their postseason hopes in peril, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers erased a one-goal deficit with another dramatic late goal.
Aly Hassan scored in the 86th minute as the Strikers salvaged a 1-1 tie against the Ottawa Fury in their regular season finale Saturday night at Lockhart Stadium. The draw, before 5,505 fans, was sufficient for the Strikers to qualify for the NASL playoffs.
Fort Lauderdale earned the fourth and final spot in the league’s postseason table with 40 points. The Strikers staved off Carolina, which tied Minnesota, 2-2, and finished with 37 points.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, especially how it was going down,” Strikers coach Gunter Kronsteiner said. “We needed a little bit of luck, too. But I think it was very well deserved. We made a lot of pressure. We created a lot of chances. I am very proud of these guys.”
Desperately seeking the equalizer for the majority of the match, the Strikers finally broke through on Hassan’s goal. Fafau Picault headed a crossing pass from the left wing to an unmarked Hassan, who controlled the pass with his right leg, spun and blasted a left-footed shot from 10 yards that beat Ottawa goalkeeper Romauld Peiser.
“I knew Fafa was going to lay it off right away,” Hassan said. “I had a good first touch and set up my second touch and finished.”
A former Nova Southeastern University standout, Hassan replaced defender Stefan Antonijevic in the 78th minute as Kronsteiner pushed for additional offensive punch in attempt to save the Strikers’ postseason.
“It’s a role I have to play and if it is to come off the bench then I’ll have to do that,” said Hassan, a three-year Strikers veteran.
“I knew I had to score a goal. I just had to do it. We’ve worked too hard. With God on my side, he helped me scored that goal.”
The Strikers also needed a late regulation goal to defeat Edmonton in their previous match on Oct. 25.
“This team has unbelievable tools,” Kronsteiner said. “We all know this team is like one group. This is not a real professional team. These are friends. This friendship at the end gave us the point that qualified us for the playoffs.”
The Strikers will play at Minnesota in the NASL semifinals next Saturday. Minnesota clinched the league’s top seed. New York will play at San Antonio in the other semifinal.
“Everything is possible now,” Kronsteiner said. “We know that Minnesota is clearly the No. 1 in this league. We achieved what we wanted but now they have to beat us.”
The Strikers had a one-man advantage for the final 35 minutes of Saturday’s match after referee Ismauk Ekfath issued a direct red card to Ottawa’s Mauro Eustaquio, following his reckless foul on Pecka near the left sideline. Pecka had a clear path to a loose ball, but Eustaquio slid and aggressively knocked down and injured Pecka.
Assisted by the Strikers’ training staff, Pecka limped along the sidelines but could not return to the match and was replaced by Justin Chavez.
Tensions escalated again in the 63rd minute when Picault and Ottawa’s O’Brian Woodbine ended their chase for a loose ball by exchanging shoves on the right sidelines deep in the Ottawa area. Ekfath issued yellow card infractions on both players as well as Strikers backup goalkeeper Lionel Brown, who was warming up by the end line and joined the fracas.
The Strikers faced an early disadvantage after Tony Donatelli gave the Furty a 1-0 in the 16th minute.