The Harrisburg City Islanders opened up their 2017 home campaign with a thrilling 3-2 victory over their in-state rivals the Bethlehem Steel FC in front of a record crowd of 3,264 people at FNB Field on Saturday night.
Three Islanders notched their first goals of the season including Aaron Wheeler and Paul Wilson who scored two straight goals in the first half to put the Islanders up with an early 2-0 lead.
Cardel Benbow’s first goal of the season came in dramatic fashion when he split a pair of Bethlehem defensemen and struck home the game-winning goal in the 90th minute.
“This is big for us,” said defenseman Lee Nishanian, who also had an assist on the Wheeler tally. “It gives us a lot of confidence that we can get these wins at home.”
With the win, the Islanders stay undefeated against their rivals from Bethlehem with an all-time 3-0-1 series record. Although it is still early in the season, the Islanders currently sits in the seventh spot in the conference with six points, while Bethlehem falls to 12th place.
GETTING OFF TO AN EARLY LEAD
Harrisburg controlled the possession for the majority of the first half and had a quality chance just seconds into the game but the ball ended up just out of the reach of a streaking Paul Wilson.
Aaron Wheeler opened the scoring in the 9th minute with his first goal of the season off of a controlled headed pass from defenseman Lee Nishanian. In typical Wheeler style, he directed the ball across the goal with his head and right by Jake McGuire for a 1-0 lead.
The City Islanders continued to dominate play in the offensive zone and were rewarded again in the 22nd minute with a goal from Wilson. Manolo Sanchez weaved his way through the Steel defense and threw a pass that landed right at the feet of Wilson. Wilson had perfect shot placement and gave the Islanders a 2-0 lead.
Santi Moar cut the Islanders lead in half after cleaning up a mishandled save by goalkeeper Brandon Miller late in the first half. Moar collected the ball at his feet and powered a shot into the wide open net.
The Islanders had a few more chances on goal in the first half but ultimate couldn’t convert and took a one goal lead into the locker room.
SECOND HALF DRAMA
Bethlehem came out of the half with speed and forced the Islanders defense into some uncomfortable positions. The Steel grabbed the equalizer in the 64th minute on a perfectly placed shot by Chris Nanco.
Harrisburg started to gain more possession and continued to threaten to take the lead. McGuire was up to the task on several shots including a low-hard shot by Wheeler, who was looking for his second goal of the night.
The pivotal moment of the match came with the substitution of Benbow late in the game.
“We always know that Cardel is a great option to go to late in a tight game,” said Islanders Head Coach Bill Becher. “He can do what you saw tonight, which was get behind the defense and can finish.”
Benbow weaved through Bethlehem’s defense and found himself all alone with only McGuire standing in his way of grabbing the game-winning goal. Benbow drove home his first goal of the season to give the Islanders a 3-2 lead in the 90th minute.
The City Islanders held on for the duration of stoppage time to extend their winning streak to two games.
Harrisburg is back in action on Tuesday, April 18 when they face Orlando City B at 6:30 p.m. at FNB Field. Come out to the Island to see all the action in person.