Deltas score first ever regular season win in last-minute rally

Even if the skies were a faded crayon blue, Kezar Stadium was a special blend of brisk evening air and early spring optimism. Nobody suspected that club history would unravel before their eyes as the team secured its first win club history, leading an overwhelming last ditch win against North Carolina FC 3-1.

“It’s a great victory for the club and for San Francisco,” said Deltas head coach Marc Dos Santos. “The guys deserve it, we worked hard during the week.”

The Deltas were matched against their second opponent on Saturday after a week and a half long break following a draw against Indy Eleven in the club’s inaugural match. Their opponents were also 0-1-0 after drawing with Miami FC two weeks prior.

SF Deltas Vs. Carolina Railhawks

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In the first half, San Francisco just couldn’t push past the Carolina backline. It was proving too much for forwards like Kyle Bekker. Every cross he laid into the center for others like Danny Cruz either wouldn’t connect or would fall incomplete. North Carolina was just locked in the defensive end for the Deltas. To every player San Francisco could put towards the goal North Carolina FC could outnumber them two to one or even have three players defending one. Then they would counter with a shot slightly off goal that wouldn’t get properly cleared off.

NCFC deployed in a 4-4-2 versus the Deltas 4-3-3. At times NCFC had five players covering the back with the midfield chipping at any push the Deltas’ could mount.  It worked well enough that in the first half the Deltas were ineffective at pushing against the pressure applied by NC. It was not quite a total domination from possession or shots; NC maintained 51.5% of first half possession versus 48.5% for the Deltas. The Deltas outshot NC in the first half, eight for the Deltas’ in the first half versus seven for North Carolina. But six of North Carolina’s shots were inside the box after outmaneuvering the entire Deltas’ backline. Many simple clearings from the defensive line just returned possession to North Carolina.

By the 23rd minute, NCFC had the Deltas box stacked. A cross by #31 Steven Miller was expertly punched out by the Deltas’ Romauld Peiser. It was a partial clearing that rebounded back into North Carolina’s possession.  Tiyi Shipalane ended the bombardment by slamming in NC’s first goal.

“We conceded a little bit too much pace for the dangerous players of Carolina. Our goalkeeper made two or three very important saves that could have been two-nothing for them,” said Dos Santos.

All looked grim for the expansion team until halfway into stoppage the Deltas equalized with a poach by #9 Tommy Heinemann that was fed via long ball by #8 Cristian Portilla. Less than a minute later the first half ended with an even score.

“That was a big goal for us, we started the game kind of flat. It was a moment that I think was big for our club,” said Heinemann. “Anytime you are able to score right before the half you take the momentum into the break and that’s what we did and we carried it through the second half.”

It was almost a split game. North Carolina FC seemed to be the better composed team, a lot more fluid but in touch with each other and aware of their game. The Deltas would lob balls from the wings in hopes they would connect and end up in a goal or a shot. They did a lot of that in the second half: the Deltas had 11 shots total in just the second half alone versus 11 total for NC.

But a turnaround came late. By minute 71, Jackson was subbed in for Danny Cruz and the squad upped their attacks. With a pass to Pablo Dyego in the 81st minute, the forward dribbled, stopped then shot a long ball that stretched past the keeper and flew into the left corner of the net.

Dyego’s goal put the Deltas high up in the scoreboard for the first time in the team’s short history.  Heinemann sealed the game’s fate at the 89th minute with a third goal, his second for the night and an assist from Dyego.  Two minutes later the match ended with 3-1 score line favoring the Deltas and giving the new team its first ever victory in San Francisco.

“We learned a lot about the second half we played against Indy [Eleven] where we felt that it was very flat. We came out well, we were aggressive, we looked for the goal and there were special moments,” said Dos Santos.

On the field things looked tense. The second half saw possession fall squarely in NCFC’s hands with 64.3% of possession versus the Deltas’ diminutive 35.7% even though the Deltas had almost double the total number of shots and corners.

Dos Santos, when asked what changes he made during the game said:

“We had to adjust something in the middle especially in the first half every time Carolina played long and we had the ball we were late on the second ball. We had to adjust that. We’re not delusional, even winning, we feel there are lots of things we need to get better at.”

To their credit, the team’s coach said, the Deltas have only played together “for about two months”.  But their late game rally against a team that has been playing together for a long time couldn’t be discounted, Dos Santos said.

Praising the organizations’ dedication, Heinemann said it was an important night for the entire operational staff.

“To get the first win at Kezar stadium in San Francisco is special,” he said.

The Deltas play their first away game against the Jacksonville Armada on Saturday, April 15.

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