Project 51O’s inaugural USL League Two season ended Sunday in heartbreaking fashion, dropping a 2-1 result to Ballard FC at Interbay Stadium in Seattle. Third-seeded 51O looked to build on their successful first season less than a week after winning the division championship, while fourth seeded hosts Ballard sought to take advantage of their home field advantage and a short week for their opponents from East Bay. 51O boss Mikey Hannon continued to trust youth in the biggest match of the season, starting five players born in 2004 or later, including 14 year-old Damario McIntosh.
It was Ballard who started the match on the front foot, spurred on by the 1,500 fans in attendance. After a giveaway from 51O at midfield, the home side burst forward with a quick counter, but Seattle Pacific forward Alex Mejia’s low drive was saved sharply by the stalwart Tim Syrel in the 9th minute. Just a few minutes later, some trademark 51O buildup saw Estgar Cruz slipped through on the endline. Cruz’s low cross was pinpoint, aimed towards Javi Mariona’s clever run at the back post, but a last-ditch tackle from Nik Reierson poked the ball just past the endline before Mariona could tap the ball into the net.
In spite of 51O’s advantages in possession and pressure, Ballard would take the lead in the 37th minute of the match. A lofted through ball found its way to Charlie Gaffne, whose headed first touch and rapid acceleration put him out of 51O center back Josh Redfield’s reach. Bearing down on goal, Gaffne slotted a composed finish past Tim Syrel at the near post, sending the home crowd into raptures. 51O would go into the half down a goal to none, as the sun set over the Emerald City.
The home side would double their lead not long after the whistle blew signaling the start of the first half. Another midfield turnover from 51O saw Taketo Onodera played through on the right side of the box. His driven cross was cleverly backheeled by Peter Kingston, setting up Declan McGlynn, who finished low past Syrel, stacking the deck against the visitors.
However, as has been the case all season, 51O refused to back down from adversity. A whipped cross from captain Javi Ruiz Duran was weakly cleared by Ballard goalkeeper Akili Kasim, and rolled invitingly towards the edge of the box. Roots Academy contract signee Lorenzo Hernandez tracked down the rebound, and fired a right footed howitzer on the volley over the outreached arms of Kasim, galvanizing 51O into action for the final 10 minutes of the match. Despite peppering the Ballard goal with shots, Kasim and the backline held firm, and 51O could not find an equalizer.
With the loss, Project 51O finishes the season with an 8-2-3 record and a Southwest Division regular season title, while regularly fielding some of the youngest lineups in the league and proving that young talent from the Bay can compete with the best college players the country has to offer.
Project 51O will be back in action this fall, when they embark on their UPSL fall season journey. The boys are very grateful for all the support during their inaugural season, and look forward to seeing you all soon. Stay tuned for 51O updates, and always remember: to 51GROW.