PAPILLION, Neb. – The Owls got off to a flying start, taking less than 90 seconds to snatch the lead against last-place North Carolina FC. From there, a goal explosion in the first quarter of the match or so saw them soar to a home match in the playoffs to come.
The story of this match will be Evan Conway, who netted a hat trick of poacher’s goals to reach double digits on the season. The Conway-Hurst duo up top has the best goalscoring record of any duo in the league, with 21 goals between them now.
“Huge three points today,” said Head Coach Jay Mims, throwing in a double fist-pump for good measure. “We’re super pumped up. We don’t have many games left, so every point is huge right now. For us to get towards the finish line here, we needed that.”
Union Omaha immediately set up shop in NCFC’s half of the pitch, and the field tilt was so disparate that it resulted in easily their quickest goal of the season. Tobias Otieno was played onside by Malick Mbaye, and had all the time in the world to fire in a cross from the right. A deflection took it right onto Evan Conway for a walk-in opener in the 2nd minute.
Coach Mims almost saw it coming from the off. “That’s how soccer works sometimes. You don’t score for an entire game, and then you go to the next game and literally a minute and a half in, you score.” It was only the beginning.
Even after that, it took seven minutes for North Carolina to even have one proper spell of possession. Yet once they did, they kept pushing. By the time they had bedded into the game, Malick Mbaye redeemed himself for his role in the first goal with a deft flick past Nuhu off a corner kick for an equalizer.
Union Omaha then enlisted more help from the opposition to retake the lead. Greg Hurst’s 18th minute cross was flicked by youngster Britton Fischer into a perfect spot for Evan Conway to run onto it and headbutt it home for a 2-1 lead. Just minutes later, a perfectly whipped cross from Devin Boyce granted the home team a two-goal cushion, this time with Amir Alihodžić getting low to guide it home with his own head. All three of Omaha’s goals were generated through the right flank, but with three different Owls providing the service for each.
The first half ended without much further incident (beyond a golden opportunity for Alihodžić to net a brace that slipped out from under his feet), but there was enough action in the first 25 to fill several matches. After a languid affair against Greenville last time out, this was a welcome return to form and then some.
“It was great because it’s after a loss,” said Coach Mims. “You always want to respond after a loss, and react, and the guys responded well.”
Omaha piled on the misery in the 58th minute, with Devin Boyce’s silky moves allowing him the space to chip in a close-range cross that found (who else?) Evan Conway. That gave him his second hat trick of October, a downright ridiculous streak to be on as the regular season closes. If even some of that torrid scoring translates to the playoffs, watch out, because it’s safe to say Evan Conway has recovered from his injury and then some.
It’s no stretch to say the second half was far quieter than the first, though. A scary-looking injury to NCFC midfielder Daniel Steedman halted proceedings for a few minutes, but beyond that and the goal, the most notable happening was a confident (if inconsistent) substitute appearance from Yoskar Galvan-Mercado, aka Edu. While the academy product is still raw, his finesse and creativity were made clear in a low-pressure outing of almost half an hour.
While Greenville took all three points from New England Revolution II, this result locks up home turf for Union Omaha in the playoffs. While it’s not mathematically clinched, they’re also a hair’s width away from securing a bye to the semifinals as well. Chattanooga lost as well, giving Los Búhos a 4 point cushion at the top.
Union Omaha will be right back at it in the middle of the week, as their game in hand finally arrives. After a rain-out back on August 7th, the Owls will play host to the Flamingos of Forward Madison. Their rivals up north have their backs against the wall in the playoff hunt, so expect a fiery mid-week match out of this one. You can catch the action Wednesday, October 20th at 7:00 PM CDT.
Union Omaha vs North Carolina FC
Werner Park (Papillion, NE)
Goals by Half 1 2 F
Union Omaha 3 1 4
North Carolina FC 1 0 1
OMA: Evan Conway 2’, 18’, 57’, Amir Alihodžić 25’
NCFC: Malick Mbaye 15’
NCFC: Nelson Blanco Flores (Yellow Card) 45+3’, Cole Frame (Yellow Card) 68’
Shots (on goal): OMA: 17 (11); NCFC: 3 (1)
Saves: OMA: Rashid Nuhu – 1; NCFC: Jake McGuire – 7
Possession: OMA 42.7% – NCFC 57.3%
Fouls: OMA 6; NCFC 9
Corner Kicks: OMA 5; NCFC 1
OMA: GK, Nuhu; D, Viader (Crull 83’); D, Osumanu; D, Malone; D, Otieno (Sousa 75’); M, Scearce; M, Doyle; M, Alihodžić (Galvan 67’); M, Boyce (Firmino 83’); F, Conway (Panchot 75’); F, Hurst
NCFC: GK, McGuire; D, Fischer; D, Flick (Pearson 42’); D, Mbaye; D, Flores; M, Pecka; M, Martinez; M, Steedman (Arriaga 77’); M, Simpson (Kristo 76’); M, Frame (Miscic 71’); F, Jackson (Coan 70’)
All game stats are unofficial.