MOBILE – A late goal from Ronaldo Fortune gave 10-man AFC Mobile a win over rivals Port City FC in its home opener, the first leg of the 2021 Forgotten Coast Cup, a rivalry trophy handed to the aggregate regular-season winner of the two clubs. The 2021 edition is the first in the NPSL for the former GCPL rivals.
It was a difficult start for the Azaleas, as Port City scored in the fourth minute of the match after a short corner was floated into the box by Renan Diniz and headed over AFC Mobile goalkeeper Salvador Plaza by Guilherme Bittencourt. Minutes later, the Sounders were awarded a penalty after the referee spotted a handball in the box. Port City’s CJ Smith stepped up to take the penalty, but Plaza saved his shot, drawing a roar from the 1,246 fans in attendance.
“Sal made a very very good save and kind of energized us a little bit,” said AFC Mobile head coach Steve Wieczorek. “Obviously, playing in front of 1300 fans helps.”
Possession shifted in Mobile’s favor after Plaza’s save. Mobile’s Soane Deminguet’s chance in the 20th minute was saved by Port City’s Owen Betz. In the 24th minute, Port City’s Andrew Elkins saw a yellow card for a professional foul on Mobile’s Iba Ndaw in the midfield.
In the 37th minute, Fortune’s shot was saved by Betz. Fortune collected the rebound and played the ball across the box to Jackson Wheatley, who dragged his shot wide – one of several chances created by Fortune in the game. In the 43rd minute, Mobile’s Ndaw received a pass, turned to beat the Port City midfield, and played a one-two with Fortune. Ndaw’s chance sailed wide left.
In the 46th minute, AFC Mobile’s Zubair Taylor was sent off for a late, high tackle, reducing the Azaleas to ten men just before halftime.
Despite the red card at the end of the first half, the Azaleas started the second half on the front foot. In the 53rd minute, Fortune played a ball over the Sounders’ backline and found the feet of a charging Soane Deminguet, who received the ball with his back to goal, touched back to his right and slotted the ball home to level the match for the Azaleas.
The teams traded chances for the next twenty minutes, with both keepers called into action. The last fifteen minutes saw a flurry of subs for the Azaleas as Erik Aispuro entered the game for Thierry Zabarel and Blake Palmquist entered for Darrius Rashid, who made his AFC Mobile debut on the night.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 84th minute when Sounders attempted to clear Soane Deminguet’s corner attempt. Fortune picked up the rebound, and his shot rolled into the lower right-hand corner of the net, giving the Azaleas a 2-1 lead.
“Honestly, I missed five opportunities,” Fortune said. “I knew the team needed something. I tried to be as patient as possible, and when I saw the little gap, I just took it.”
Wieczorek had high praise for the attacking midfielder.
“We brought him in from the University of Mobile, where he’s an all-conference first-teamer,” he said. “He’s a guy that’s going to get ten, fifteen goals in a college season. He just needed to find his feet with his new teammates in a new system playing in a position he doesn’t play for in his college team. I knew the goals would come. Today could’ve been more than one, and I’m excited to see what he can deliver over the course of the season.
Wieczorek did not reserve his praise for the attack. He noted that the Azaleas played ten men down for 45 minutes and gave his defense high marks.
“We played 45 minutes down ten men with a back three, and those guys defended valiantly. Sal played a very good game in the second half, and the back three with our center midfielders in front of them allowed the opportunity to attack the way we did.”
This was the Azaleas’ first win of the season, and first in their NPSL history. The win gives Mobile four points from three games and sends them to third in the NPSL Gulf Coast Conference table.
Mobile will host Florida Roots in its next match, May 22 at 7 p.m. in Mobile. The second leg of the Forgotten Coast Cup will be contested the following week, May 29th, in Gulfport. The winner of the aggregate score of the two regular-season matches will be presented the rivalry trophy, which is currently in AFC Mobile’s trophy case after the 2019 season.