Despite loss, Kickers to host playoff opener

ST. JOHN'S, ANTIGUA (WWBT) - First-half goals by Quinton Griffith and Randolph Burton gave Antigua Barracuda FC a 2-1 victory against the Richmond Kickers on Sunday night at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, denying the Kickers the number 2 seed in the USL PRO Playoffs.  Finishing fourth in the standings, the Kickers will host the Wilmington Hammerheads in the Quarterfinals at Richmond City Stadium on Saturday, August 25 at 7:00 p.m.

In their second meeting in three days, a revitalized Antigua exploded out of the gates to grab the lead within 27 seconds of kickoff.  Midfielder Ranja Christian received a long ball on the left wing and played a quick through ball to Griffith who beat his defender and launched a missile into the upper 90 from 12 yards out.

Rattled from the early lead, the Kickers quickly reclaimed possession.  After pinging the ball around the midfield with several short passes, the visitors attempted to pull a goal back in the 16th minute when Sascha Görres fired an unexpected shot from 40 yards that surprised Keita DeCastro but the goalkeeper was able to bobble the ball over the endline for a corner.  Later, Luke Vercollone struck from distance and beat a leaping DeCastro, only to be denied by the woodwork in the 31st minute.

Christian nearly turned from provider to goal scorer with a pair of ambitious strikes that were just slightly off target but it was Burton who doubled the home side's lead before the break.  Intercepting the ball in the midfield, the speedy forward carried it towards the box and buried a powerful shot through traffic from 20 yards out to send the Barracudas into halftime with a sizable lead.

The Kickers thought they had cut the deficit in half in the 62nd minute when Görres served a dangerous cross from the left flank to the far post.  Matthew Delicâte kept the play alive, preventing the ball from crossing the endline and feeding to an awaiting Christopher Agorsor who back heeled it into the goal, only to have it ruled offside.

Five minutes later, the Barracudas looked to send the Kickers home early when Christian beat his mark deep on the left wing, earning his side's first corner kick of the half.  The resulting inswinger was met by Orlando Mitchum in prime scoring position but his header glanced just wide.

Supported by a staunch back line, DeCastro was forced into action several times in the final 20 minutes, blocking back to back shots by Delicate and Ryan Heins before making a crucial save in the 78th minute.  Görres received the ball on the left wing and carried it into the box.  He played it back to an onrushing Heins, but his subsequent shot was blocked by the Antigua defense.  Shane Johnson won the rebound and nodded it back into the mix, finding Edson Elcock who one-timed a low, driven ball that was smothered by DeCastro at the right post.

With four minutes to spare in regulation, Antigua substitute Matthew Aldred turned his defender in the midfield and drove to the top of the 18.  He played a square ball to Lawson Robinson on the left edge of the box who took one touch and fired on target but Pascale leapt to stifle his attempt.

Nabbing a consolation goal deep in stoppage time, the Kickers narrowly avoided the shutout when David Bulow served a long throw in deep in Barracuda territory.  Vercollone received the ball at the far post and handed it off to Agorsor who muscled through the determined defense and powered the ball into the back of the net seconds before the final whistle.

The number 4 seed Kickers are set to open the USL PRO postseason next Saturday, August 25 when they play host to the number 5 seed Wilmington Hammerheads at 7:00 p.m.  Number 3 Charleston Battery will host number 6 seed Harrisburg City Islanders in the other Quarterfinal match to determine the opponents for the USL PRO Semifinals against Orlando (#1) and Rochester (#2) on Saturday, September 1.

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