WORCESTER, Mass. - Phoenix forward Eric Anderson couldn’t stop running.
Seconds after scoring the his second goal in the final four minutes to lift the Phoenix to a 3-2 comeback win over the Hydra on Wednesday, the 6-3 striker raced up the field in the 91st minute with pure adrenaline in his tank.
“I was just looking for someone to find to celebrate with,” said Anderson, who eventually found goalkeeper Terrance Dieterich on the other end of the field to share the moment with. “I just had to sprint over to him. He wasn’t about to walk out of here with a loss especially with the way he played tonight.”
While Dieterich stopped three shots – including a pair of heady saves in the second half – the story, of course, was Anderson’s late-game heroics.
Down by a goal entering the 88th minute, Portland stepped on the gas and sent numbers forward. Pushing up to sharpen the attack, right back Ben Havey grabbed a pass and went wide before he crossed it into the area, where Anderson headed it through to level it at 2-2.
“When I saw the ball go back to Havey, I know he was going to hit a nice serve,” Anderson said. “He’s on his right foot and I just looked to get around to the back post. It was a perfect ball. It was completely unchallenged by anyone else, just a free header.”
A strike like that would make any player’s night. Scoring an equalizer before full-time? It’s the stuff strikers daydream of.
But with plenty of time remaining, the Phoenix must have asked themselves: why quit now?
Although a road draw wouldn’t have been the worst outcome – especially for a squad that fell behind twice on Wednesday – the Phoenix attack refused to pack it up and call it a night. Not on Wednesday night. Or any other night, for thar matter.
“We always look to get the three points,” Anderson said. “We believe we can beat any team when we play our best.”
A minute deep into stoppage time, Anderson jogged into the area, ready to get a hold of another chance. He wouldn’t have to wait very long.
With Portland re-establishing itself in the Worcester end, Jason Massie took it along the edge of the box. Rapidly running out of real estate, he had an idea: get the ball to Anderson.
“I know Eric’s quality in the air,” said Massie, who also assisted on a Chris Banks strike in the 57th minute. “So I know if the ball gets whipped in, he’s going to get on the end of it, and he did – thankfully.”
As if it were returning to an old friend, the ball found Anderson’s forehead. Again. But this time around, the ball wasn’t in a hurry to find the back of the net.
Anderson’s header ricocheted off the bar before it plummeted right on the line with a heavy dose of English on it. For a split second, no one could tell if it was going to bounce in, or bounce out. But after Hydra keeper Jose Silva tried in vain to swat it away, the ball finally fell into the net.
“I got lucky there,” Anderson said. “The ball was a little bit in front of me (on the pass). I didn’t get good wood on it. But it was a great serve that came right toward me.”
While Anderson’s goals left the crowd at Foley Stadium stunned, one person who wasn’t surprised by the late-game fireworks was Portland head coach Paul Baber.
During the course of his squad’s current five-game winning streak, the team found goals in the waning minutes to secure three points on at least three occasions. And even though goals from Eboy Badgie (18′) and Junior Alencar (68′) sandwiched Banks’ 57th minute tally to put the Hydra in the driver’s seat late, the Phoenix never stopped believing.
“It almost seemed like we knew it was coming,” Baber said. “We just had to stay persistent with it and get more chances.”
Anderson’s late-game performance not only extended Portland’s streak, but also kept them in command atop the division standings. With a five point lead in the standings over second-place Ottawa, Baber and his squad get to enjoy an eight-game respite before they return to action on Jul. 7 for a road game against Vermont.
“It’s always good to go into the break with a victory,” Baber said. “It keeps the mood in the camp high. The win means everything to us.”