With 83 minutes gone by and a 1-0 lead in his pocket, goalkeeper Andrew Mangels just needed to defend his net for a few more minutes. Those minutes were fraught with danger though, as the Richmond Kickers mounted attack after attack in a desperate effort to equalize the score. But the Red Wolves came out on top for their first road win.
The latest onslaught came on a long pass into the box, with Richmond’s midfielder Daniel Jackson bearing down on the isolated Chattanooga keeper. Mangels skillfully was able to absorb the pass with his body a fraction of a second before Jackson was able to guide it into the back of the goal. With the crisis averted, Mangels got the ball back into the field of play giving him a few moments of rest before warding off the next Richmond challenge.
In a showdown between the top two keepers in USL League One, Mangels got the better of his adversary and came away with a clean and the victory. Mangels stymied any shot the Kickers sent his way, and neutralized countless crosses into the box. Richmond keeper Akira Fitzgerald had a better game than the stat-sheet would indicate, with Fitzgerald knocking away almost as many crosses and passes.
One of Fitzgerald’s few mistakes was a costly one though, even if it was only a matter of inches. After playing a scoreless 62 minutes, Chattanooga’s Ami Pineda found himself in in front of the entire defense on the counterattack, with Fitzgerald the only obstacle between him and his first goal of the season.
Presented with one good chance at scoring, the 22-year-old Californian went for a looping shot over Fitzgerald. The ball actually grazed the keeper’s oversized gloves, but that minor annoyance wasn’t enough to stop the ball from lodging itself in the soft net behind those hands. That goal gave Chattanooga a lead it would not relinquish, and made up for almost an hour of fruitless possessions. With leading goal-scorer Eamon Zayed having not made the trip to Richmond, players like Pineda were required to step up.
Up to that point, Chattanooga had been stifled by Richmond’s suffocating defense, led by the peerless Wahab Ackwei. The tall and graceful defender had been instrumental in orchestrating the defense, and had single-handedly stopped a Chattanooga score when Juan Mare had the ball a few yards in the box and in prime position to score. The all-league centerback expertly used his body to deflect the ball away after a sweet through ball put Mare in a place to score.
Chattanooga coach Tim Hankison had stressed that a viable strategy for getting around Richmond’s tall center backs was to get them turned around and chasing “back toward their own goal,” something Chattanooga tried throughout the match. For the most part, Chattanooga was not able to execute this strategy, with their passes often errant. Chattanooga’s short passing game was not much better, and Richmond was able to successfully rip the ball away from Chattanooga several times.
However, Pineda’s goal was a successful execution of this strategy, and gave Chattanooga the lead they needed. From there, the Red Wolves defense was put in the spotlight, and thanks to Mangels, they rose to the challenge. Richmond’s explosive Joe Gallardo had a few nice crosses and a handful of shots, but Chattanooga’s keeper made sure none of them resulted in a Richmond score.
After adding an insurance goal in the 91st minute of play, Chattanooga would not even entertain a thought of a Kickers’ comeback, and closed out the 2-0 victory. It was Chattanooga’s first win away from the friendly David Stanton field at Chattanooga Christian. Chattanooga returns there for their next match against the Greenville Triumph. The match, as always, can be viewed on ESPN+.