A penalty kick early in the second half proved to be the difference as the Liberty Flames edged the Winthrop Eagles, 1-0, for a Senior Day victory, Saturday afternoon at Osborne Stadium.
Midfielder Kevin Mendoza netted his sixth goal of the year on the penalty kick during the 59th minute for the only marker of the Big South Conference match.
The tight, physical contest saw the teams combine for 17 shots. Liberty limited scrappy Winthrop to seven during the 90 minutes to come away with its Big South-leading sixth clean sheet of the season.
Liberty moves to 5-2 in Big South and 10-4-1 overall. Winthrop falls to 1-6 in conference and 3-12-1 overall.
Before the contest, the Flames recognized seniors Jovanni Chavez, Alex Dominguez, Brady Mazzei, Edgardo Reyes, Pepe Segarra and manager Hunter Hudson as part of Senior Day ceremonies.
Despite controlling the pace of the contest throughout the first half, Liberty was unable to score. Winthrop limited the Flames' offense to four shots in a physical first 45 minutes. Along with tight defensive play, the visiting Eagles committed 13 fouls to hold down the Liberty attack.
Liberty's first chance of the game came during 17th minute. A pass from the left sideline by forward Tresor Mbuyu allowed Mendoza to get past the Winthrop backline for a shot at top of the 18-yard box. The midfielder lined a rising shot which Eagle goalkeeper Kenneth Perkinson knocked out of the air and covered the rebound to prevent a Flames' score.
Later in the half, Mbuyu broke past a defender and sent a pass into the center of the box. The ball deflected off a defender to Mendoza on the right side. Mendoza tried to score with an attempt to the top of the net, only to catch crossbar and have the Eagles clear the deflection.
Meanwhile, Winthrop's first shot of the contest was its best scoring opportunity of the first half. During the 18th minute, the Eagles caught Liberty forward and counterattacked. Forward Mach Carreras ended up taking a shot from 25 yards out which hit a Flames defender and deflected wide. Liberty then cleared the ensuing corner kick.
After Perkinson turned away a shot by Mendoza moments into the second half, Winthrop again counterattacked and almost came away with the contest's first goal during the 51st minute. Jacob Jacobsen received a through ball into the box and sidestepped Flames' keeper Knoebel. Clear of any defender, he pushed a shot from the top of the box to near post. However, a Liberty defender Geovanny Murillo made a sliding save, kicking the ball out of bounds. Liberty then relieved pressure by clearing the ensuing corner kick.
A minute later, Mbuyu corralled a ball punched free at midfield and moved free down the right sideline. Winthrop's Perkinson stopped his low shot with his chest and again smothered the ball to prevent a rebound.
During the 59th minute, a breakout at midfield by the Flames produced the only goal of the contest. After the ball was lofted out of the midfield and towards the Liberty goal, Mendoza moved behind the Winthrop backline and was pulled down in the box. He buried the penalty kick for a 1-0 edge.
Despite putting eight on the attack, the Flames held the Eagles without a shot during the final 12 minutes.
Liberty looked to add to its advantage during the 89th minute, as Mendoza and Mbuyu broke ahead of the Eagle defense, one-on-one with the goalkeeper. However, Mbuyu flipped the wide, keeping the score at 1-0.
Flames goalkeeper James Knoebel made three saves in the contest. Eagles keeper Perkinson recorded five.
Liberty held a 10-7 edge in shots, including a 6-4 advantage in shots on goal. Winthrop held a 4-0 edge in corner kicks.
Next, the Flames will wrap-up their 2017 regular season by hosting the Radford Highlanders, Wednesday afternoon at Osborne Stadium. Match time is scheduled for 5 p.m.
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