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Union Omaha Falls in USL League One Semifinals After Penalty Shootout

by Oct 28, 2023Union Omaha

Union Omaha Falls in USL League One Semifinals After Penalty Shootout

Union Omaha’s season ended in the USL League One Semifinals on Saturday, with the Owls falling in a penalty-kick shootout at home against Charlotte Independence.

Neither team scored in regulation or extra time. Independence earned the shootout win 5-4, the difference being a miss from leading Omaha goal-scorer Steevan dos Santos.

Here are three takeaways from the loss.

Omaha Creates Opportunities, Can’t Convert 

Prior to the shootout, Union Omaha was generally the more effective side in the semifinal.

The Owls had 33 shots, triple the amount of their opponents. All but seven of those came inside the box. Eight were on target, compared to three for Charlotte. Regardless, all that effort to create chances never paid off with a score.

Independence keeper Austin Pack and the rest of the defense were tested throughout the match, beginning early and often. Many of Pack’s first-half saves were fairly routine, as Omaha’s ability to set up opportunities didn’t quite match its ability to finish. To end the half, forward Lagos Kunga fired a shot toward the bottom left corner of the goal before Pack secured it well with a diving save.

Some of Omaha’s more dangerous chances in normal time included a header which sailed just high, another that went wide after three consecutive corner kicks and a chaotic sequence featuring several shots that were turned away.

A pair of Union Omaha free kicks highlighted extra time as well. One was a shot that was deflected by a diving Pack, then centered by the Owls for what would’ve been a tap-in goal. However, the ball was just out of reach for a couple of players. The first extra time period ended on a free kick sent to the far post, but the header was wide.

This isn’t to say Charlotte didn’t have its own errors — a goal was waved off after a player was just barely offsides — but it’s hard not to look at Union Omaha’s missed chances for the lead.

Tensions Run High

With a championship spot on the line, physicality and emotion showed throughout Saturday’s match.

Six yellow cards were given out, three to each side. Independence accounted for 17 of the 29 fouls, resulting in the aforementioned multiple Omaha free kick opportunities late.

It also showed itself in the conclusion of the match. Union Omaha supporters moved from around the stadium to gather behind the goal where penalty kicks were being taken. After a made kick kept Charlotte one goal ahead, a player lifted his hands to his ears, celebrating his silencing of the crowd.

Once the final kick secured the result, some players broke away from celebrating with their teammates to taunt the crowd. Those gestures were unsurprisingly met with booing, though thankfully it didn’t appear to escalate past that on either side.

It was an intense, high-stakes contest and the environment matched it.

A Season Still Worth Celebrating for Union Omaha

While the team and its supporters are surely disappointed with this end to the season, there’s plenty to be happy with from the campaign.

It should be noted that USL League One was only established in 2019, but Union Omaha had a historic campaign. It set the league single-season record for points, goals scored and goals per match. With a 19-5-8 record, Omaha became the first club to claim the “Players’ Shield” twice, finishing as the regular season champion.

The atmosphere at Werner Park was a strong one despite unfavorable weather. Fans perhaps reached their loudest as the team started off penalty kicks with a make.

Through four seasons of existence, the club has never missed the playoffs, with one quarterfinal finish, one semifinal appearance and a 1-1 record in championship games. That is surely worth celebrating.

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