Cary, NC - Any pressure on the Greenville Triumph to take care of business and secure a home playoff match didn't show on the field Saturday night, as GTSC rode a 2-0 lead to a victory in their regular season finale on the road at North Carolina FC. With the win, the defending League One champions finished the season undefeated against NCFC and ran their unbeaten streak to nine matches as they roll in to their third consecutive playoff appearance. Greenville's win and Chattanooga's loss on Saturday clinched the #2 seed and a first-round bye for Greenville.
Saturday's mission was simple, as a win or a draw against last-place North Carolina FC would clinch a home playoff match for the Upstate side. With high confidence in their defense during a stretch of four consecutive shutouts, the Triumph offense came out of the gate aggressive in search of the victory. After an early threat from the home side in front of the GTSC goal on an NCFC cross, Greenville dictated possession in the first half. Triumph SC's early offensive runs paid off in the 18th minute, when Jesus Ibarra's quick recognition and touch produced a deft through ball to Triumph forward Lachlan McLean. McLean smoothly crossed to a streaking Marios Lomis, and the former NCFC striker delivered with a calm, clean finish to the bottom right corner of the goal to put Greenville up 1-0.
The 32nd minute saw more action for the Greenville attack, as Lachlan McLean fired a shot from distance on frame that was saved by North Carolina keeper Jake McGuire. The shot might have rattled McGuire, as Greenville struck seconds later when defender Abdi Mohamed played a beautiful cross in to Allen Gavilanes, who got a shot past McGuire and into the net to double the Triumph lead.
Looking to keep the squad fresh for the playoffs, head coach John Harkes subbed out both goal-scorers coming out of the half and brought on veterans Alex Morrell and Don Smart to preserve the advantage.
The Triumph attack continued to ask questions of NCFC's McGuire, but he answered them with highlight save after highlight save to hold Greenville's lead at two. Jesus Ibarra clipped the bar on a bending strike from outside the box, and McGuire made one of his best saves of the season when he deflected a laser volley from Andrew Booth off a Triumph corner kick. As McGuire slowed Greenville's efforts to find a third goal, they subbed off additional players and looked to preserve the two-goal margin. In the 75th minute, unbeknownst to Triumph players, their hopes for a first-round bye improved with a Forward Madison goal in their match with Chattanooga. A Chattanooga loss or draw in Madison would give Greenville a bye into the League One Semifinals.
Back in Cary, the whistle blew on a 2-0 Triumph win, extending the club's shutout streak to five matches and its unbeaten streak to nine. The win ended a Triumph regular season that saw the club race out of the gates on a six-match unbeaten streak, only to see injuries and offensive woes lead to a summer slump that dropped the club to tenth place. Once the calendar turned to September and the team began to heal, the early-season form returned and shot Greenville back up the standings and into the playoffs.
Greenville's win and Chattanooga's loss against Madison on Saturday clinched the second seed and a first-round bye for the Triumph. Greenville will take on the highest remaining seed in the League One Semifinals at Legacy Early College in Greenville the weekend of November 12-14, with the game likely being played Saturday evening. Tickets will go on sale Sunday morning, October 31st.