CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (October 22, 2022) – Union Omaha’s unforgettable season came to a close Saturday night with a 1-0 defeat to Chattanooga Red Wolves SC in the USL League One playoffs.
It was the first time in club history that the Owls had to travel on the road for the playoffs, and they came into the night looking to challenge playoff history by becoming just the second team to win on the road since the league’s inception. As proven by Omaha’s incredible U.S. Open Cup run, los Búhos tended to thrive in knockout competitions and would take that experience with them as they looked to defend their title and kept their perfect unbeaten postseason record intact.
Omaha entered the contest not in its best form, but with a clean state to work from in the playoffs against an opponent it had not lost to in the regular season and had, coincidentally, recorded its last victory against. After suffering a tough loss in its regular season finale, Union Omaha Head Coach Jay Mims had his team inspired and hungry to start the postseason off on the right foot.
Indeed it was Omaha with much of the early pressure, the Owls looking like a team on a mission and not letting the Red Wolves out of their own half without a challenge. The first shot came in the 6th minute, with veterans Luis Gil and Corey Hertzog combining on a chance, the latter sending a header wide of the net.
Some great one-touch ball and possession build-up from Gil shortly after sparked the Owls’ first on-target shot with a powerful rocket from Conor Doyle that Chattanooga’s Carlos Avilez was able to bat away. Joe Brito came in hot on the rebound but couldn’t hook his shot in for the score.
Gil was then booked with the first yellow card of the match just ten minutes in for a sliding tackle attempt near midfield.
In the 24th minute, Emir Alihodžić nearly gave the Owls the go-ahead with an almost-stunner of a shot, using one touch to settle the ball before rattling the crossbar with a bash from outside the box. Brito kept Avilez’s busy night going at the half hour mark, with a half-volley attempt off a second ball that forced the goalkeeper off his line.
Hertzog remained consistent on making his way into the scoresheet, getting two more powerful shots off back-to-back just before halftime, with Avilez gathering the first and the second flanking wide of the net. It was an explosive first 45 minutes for the Owls, who were only missing the finisher in a half that saw the visitors lead in most offensive categories.
The yellow cards were leveled for each team in the 50th minute with David Texeira earning the Red Wolves’ first caution. Rey Ortiz followed it up with another in the 57th minute.
JP Scearce brought the yellow cards back even in the match even in the 78th minute with a smart foul to prevent a breakaway counterattack from Chattanooga. Tired legs began to set in towards the end of the half, limiting the Owls’ offensive productivity from the first half and requiring Mims to get creative in utilizing his substitutions effectively.
Scearce forced another pair of saves out of Avliez, the first coming in the 81st minute from a second-ball chance out of a corner kick. Always an aerial threat, he then followed it up with a signature headed stab off a gorgeous cross from Doyle.
At full time, the score remained even, sending the match into extra time. The scenario was one familiar to the Owls this season, of course, who went to extra time back in April in their takedown of the Chicago Fire during the Open Cup run.
Devin Benton was given a caution to open up play in extra time for the Red Wolves’ third of the night.
It was the 101st minute when Rafael Mentzingen was able to push past an already-tested Omaha defense and unload a shot to put the home side up. Although down, the Owls still had about twenty minutes to find a response and potentially send the match into a shootout.
Signs of frustration and fatigue continued to creep in as time wound down on the Owls’ comeback hopes, with Gabriel Claudio earning another booking for the Owls in the 112th minute. Omaha’s final attack of the match was another promising ball from Chavany Willis in the box with just under two minutes left that found Scearce’s head once again but was flicked wide.
After a gritty, hard-fought 120 minutes (in addition to stoppage time), the final whistles sounded to send Chattanooga to the semis and close the curtain on a historic season for Union Omaha.
ABOUT UNION OMAHA
Union Omaha, the 2021 USL League One Champion, is the only professional soccer team in the state of Nebraska. USL League One is a United States Soccer Federation-sanctioned professional men’s soccer league that occupies the third tier of the American soccer landscape, below USL Championship (tier two) and Major League Soccer (tier one). Union Omaha plays its home matches at Werner Park in Sarpy County, also home to the Omaha Storm Chasers of Minor League Baseball. The team is led by General Manager Peter Marlette in the front office and by Head Coach Jay Mims on the field.