Originally published on CanadaSoccer.com

There were heroes, villains and plenty of wall-to-wall action in today’s quarter-final match between HUSA Alumni Saskatoon of Manitoba and Ontario’s Vaughan Azzurri.

It was a thrilling affair that saw the lead repeatedly switch hands, only to have the match go to penalties following a late goal. And in penalties, just like the game itself, one never quite knew which team had the advantage. In fact, it took seven rounds of kicks to determine the winner: HUSA Alumni 3:3 a.e.t / HUSA wins 5-4 on kicks.

“Crazy, it was just crazy,” says HUSA’s coach Stewart Gillot. “I mean, first we go down, then we’re up; only to go down again—I have to credit our guys for pushing…they just wouldn’t stop.”

To say the match started with Andrej Ornoch’s penalty kick, which gave Vaughan a 1-0 lead, would cheat the game of its excitement, because, throughout the eighty minutes, both sides had a flurry of chances.

But the goals are ultimately what matter. And one of the nicest was scored by HUSA’s Jens Hamilton Barandica who, following a two-touch free kick, hit the ball over the wall, and under the bar to level the match at 1-1.

Another penalty kick, this time for Saskatchewan, would give Barandica his second of the night and hand his team a 2-1 lead going into the break.

Emotions were high following the re-start. “Being down a goal, our guys no longer wanted to be patient; they wanted to press, says Azzurri coach Patrice Gheisar. “We wanted to increase the tempo and that’s what we set out to do in the second half.”

The strategy paid off in the 51st minute when Vaughan won a free-kick just outside of the HUSA 18-yard-box. Midfielder Jonathan Lao made no mistake, freezing the keeper with a curling shot that sailed over the wall and into the net.

And, like that, the match was tied. The fans could sense the shift in momentum. Suddenly the Saskatchewan contingent drew quiet and the Vaughan supporters grew loud.

Ontario was now pressuring hard and their efforts were soon rewarded. And what began with a turnover in midfield resulted in a loose ball just outside of HUSA’s 18-yard box, which was driven in by Lao and deflected by Ornoch to give Azzurri a 3-2 lead.

The match appeared to be over, but in the 73rd minute Barandica would strike again, completing his hat-trick. The play came out of nothing, a harmless looping kick towards the Vaughan net that seemingly had no target. “I had to put everything on the line to get to it,” says Barandica. “I have always played striker and you have to have faith that your teammates will deliver the ball and that you [in turn] can put it in.”

Saskatchewan’s fans were now the ones cheering, joining their voices with Barandica's in elation as he ran down the side-lines screaming, with fists pumping. HUSA was once again in control and even though the match would go to penalties there was an extra swagger about them.

But even then, the match would go into extra kicks. And while there was plenty of drama, the turning point came in the seventh round, when Vaughan’s Joseph Amato struck the crossbar. At first, no one knew whether the ball had landed in or out of the net following the ricochet. The crowd and Amato all turned, in silence, to the ref, who waved his arms out from his body to signal no goal.

The job, however, was not yet done. And it fell to HUSA’s goalkeeper Sotiri Varlokostas to seal the victory by scoring on his counterpart – which he did.

“Last year we were on the losing side of one these, so when we went to penalties I was like no it can’t happen again, it just can't,” says Barandica. “But fortunately we won, and it feels much, much better.”

Up next for HUSA is a meeting with Alberta’s Calgary Callies on Sunday (12:30 ET / 09:30 PT). Live coverage of this match along with the other semi-final between Manitoba’s FC Winnipeg Lions and Ontario’s London Marconi (10:00ET / 07.00 PT will be streamed at canadasoccer.com/nationals.

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