Danny Tenorio’s 24th minute goal followed by stout defending and a little luck allowed Forward Madison FC to become the first USL League One team to defeat regular season champions twice, ended the North Texas SC winning streak at five, and put the Flamingos in solid playoff position with two matches to play.
Having already secured the top spot on the table and home field advantage in the playoffs, North Texas coach Eric Quill left several players at home, including league-leading scorer Ronaldo Dumas.
Forward Madison took advantage, lodging heavy pressure in the early going. A shot from Tenorio was deflected out for a corner in the 23rd minute, which JC Banks sent into the box. The ball took a bounce and was not handled well by the North Texas defense, who were only able to push it aside toward the end line. Madison defender Connor Tobin was able to push the ball back across the face of goal with goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck chasing it, and it was all too easy for Tenorio to tap it home.
North Texas nearly equalized in the 33rd, as Arturo Rodruguez struck a brilliant curling shot toward the upper corner from about 20 yards away. Madison goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre used every inch of his impressive wingspan to push the ball over the bar and keep the clean sheet.
North Texas had the better of the possession in the second half, but found the Mingos’ stalwart defense frustrating. They did get a ball into the back of the net three minutes into stoppage time, as a blistering shot clanged off the post, then Rodriguez took a clever backheel pass off the rebound and put it past Sylvestre. But after conferring with the linesman, the referee ruled Rodriguez offside and waved off the goal.
“I thought the first 25 minutes of the game we were really, really good,” said Head Coach Daryl Shore. “We dropped a little bit too deep then towards the latter half of the first half, but then came out in the second half and did what we had to do to grind this one out.”
At this point in the season, it’s not about pretty wins, Shore said.
“It’s tough. We’ve been talking about playoff soccer for a long time, but when you give up very few chances, and you score a goal, you’ve got good chances to win,” he said.
Center back and team captain Connor Tobin echoed that sentiment.
“I think our group’s are starting to figure out what playoff soccer is all about,” he said. “It’s not always about the best soccer, it’s about grinding, and it’s going to be hard moments, but continue to stick together, continue to communicate, continue to work for each other. And you know, our group fought through some hard moments the second half, and were able to get a really big win.”
More than 4,300 fans braved a steady rain to witness the final home match of the inaugural Forward Madison season.
“I can’t speak volumes enough to what the fans have created here. This sense of community that they’ve built. It gives me goosebumps,” Tobin said. “Coming to play here, it’s a privilege. This, as I said at the beginning after the home opener and they proved it all year. This is as good as any environment in the United States, as special as any environment in the United States and man, it’s just special stuff.”
The win means Forward Madison could clinch a berth in the first-ever USL League One playoffs with a win over Tucson on Friday. Forward Madison now sits three points clear of Chattanooga, who now sit in fifth and just outside the playoffs, and just a point behind Greenville in third. It’s likely that the Flamingos would see North Texas for a fifth time at some point in the playoffs.
“We know that the road goes through Dallas to get to the USL championship,” Shore said. We know that playing at home, they’re very good. If we play them in the first round of the playoffs, it’d be a tough game.”