The Ottawa Fury gave a record crowd at TD Place more than their money's worth with a 2-1 extra-time win over Minnesota United FC in the NASL semifinal Sunday.
Ottawa's regular season leading goal-scorer Tom Heinemann found the net in the 47th and 108th minutes to send the Fury to the NASL final next Sunday, where they'll play the New York Cosmos at 5 p.m.
"[It's the] best victory I've ever had, to achieve this in our second season with this group of players, not a massive budget compared to other teams within the league," said midfielder and captain Ritchie Ryan.
The Fury were playing their first ever playoff game in the NASL after winning the Fall Season championship, bringing a league playoff record 9,346 fans to the stadium at Lansdowne Park on a crisp, bright November afternoon.
Minnesota's leading scorer Christian Ramirez drew a penalty kick after he was taken down by two Fury defenders and scored in the seventh minute, but Ottawa didn't give up much else to the Loon and their high-flying offence in the half.
The Fury fired seven shots toward the goal tended by Sammy Ndjock and had several near misses.
"I think we had five or six chances where they don't go in and you think it's one of those days where it backfires against you and you end up not achieving what you should achieve," Ryan said.
"[Head coach Marc Dos Santos] in the locker room said he believes in us and if we come out and play the same way we did in the first half we'll be able to win this game," Heinemann said.
"To dominate a first half like we did and come out at halftime and not be up in the score was a little frustrating but we stuck to our game plan."
They were finally rewarded when Heinemann scored less than 90 seconds into the second half to tie the game.
"When I miss things and I feel like I let the team down there is a feeling, a drop inside of you, but that's the life of a striker. You have to be able to rebound, have a quick memory, let it go," Heinemann said.
Chances evened out after that, with the most dangerous coming from Ottawa's Andrew Wiedeman and his one-timer that hit the post then Fury defender Mason Trafford blocking an attempt at a wide-open net after a Minnesota cross toward the end of the half.
After the whistles blew to end regulation time, then the first of two 15-minute overtimes, Heinemann got behind the Minnesota defence and ripped a left-footed shot into the right corner of the net to put the Fury up ahead.
With fatigue setting in, the Fury condensed themselves into a defensive position and relied on some big saves from goalkeeper Romuald Peiser to kill off the final minutes.
"A couple of our guys were cramping, myself included, so we had to tactically kind of sit back a bit and position ourselves in a way that we could help the team," Heinemann said.
"Romuald absolutely kept us right there, if you look at the saves they made they were unbelievable, point blank, I don't know how they didn't go in. That's the type of goalkeeper he is."
"After we scored in overtime it was a matter of how much we could suffer to win the game. And we did," Dos Santos said.
The Fury wound up sending a combined 20 on and off-target shots toward the Minnesota goal, compared to eight the other way for the Loons.
Minnesota had the slightest edge of ball possession time, with 51 per cent compared to 49 per cent for Ottawa.
Cosmos up next
The Fury will head to James H. Shuart Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University on Long Island to play the New York Cosmos, who earned homefield advantage in the Soccer Bowl on the second tiebreaker over the Fury.
The idea that some of the Fury fans would be heading to New York to watch the final went over well with Dos Santos.
"It means that soccer finally arrived in Ottawa," he said.
"When you see how the fanbase grew and you see how people support a winning team here, to see now that it got to the point where people want to travel with the team, it shows that soccer [has] arrived in Ottawa to a different level."
The Cosmos feature former Real Madrid star Raúl and Spanish midfielder Marcos Senna, both of whom will be playing their last career games.
"I don't think those boys really feel pressure," Ryan said.
"It's not pressure for us either, we're achieving things nobody around the league ever thought this club was capable of achieving this season so we need to go one more game and make sure we win next weekend."
Kickoff is at 5 p.m. ET