John Ball of the Cleveland Crunch nailed a three-pointer for the game winner and earned MVP honors.
A big goal to be sure, but if you ask some of his American Conference teammates, Andrew Crawford of the Buffalo Blizzard got the key goal in Wednesday night's 19-18 victory in the NPSL All-Star Game in HSBC Arena.
Crawford got behind the National defense and left-footed a shot from the left corner past goalkeeper Jim Larkin to cut the Americans' deficit to two points, at 18-16, with 7:06 left.
"That was a big goal coming when it did," said former Blizzard standout Gino DiFlorio of the Harrisburg Heat. "It left us down by only two points, which means we didn't have to go with the extra attacker early.
"We were down four and he made a great run and did a good job getting it with his left foot."
Crawford admitted that the Americans may have nonchalanted things a little too much in the first half when the Nationals jumped to a 16-0 lead after the first 16:56.
"They (the National Conference) came out very excited and caught us by surprise a little bit," he said. "They had the young legs and came out flying. They were tackling hard and coming at us hard and we were more concerned with putting on an All-Star show.
"I think we were embarrassed in the first half. In the second, we picked it up."
Crawford was added to the American roster only two days before the game.
"This was my second All-Star Game and it was good to score a goal and win," he said.
It was fun, too, Crawford said, playing on the same side for a change with Hector Marinaro of the Cleveland Crunch. Marinaro had a goal and an assist for the Americans.
"He's the Michael Jordan of indoor soccer and it was a highlight of my career to play with him," Crawford said. "In my other All-Star Game he was on the other side because Cleveland was in the other conference."
Marinaro got his assist when he worked a pretty give-and-go play with Cleveland teammate Andy Schmetzer early in the third period. His goal came with his own rebound after he bombed a shot from close range off Larkin. The Toronto native now has 42 career points in All-Star play, tying him with former Cleveland teammate Zoran Goric for the all-time record.
"It just means I've played in a lot of All-Star games," Marinaro joked. "Really, it's an honor and it means more because I'm tied with my old linemate and teammate. I like playing in All-Star games. It's a fun time for me."
The National Conference led, 16-4, at halftime, and then was outscored, 15-2, in the second half. That's a wild turn of events, even for the NPSL.
"We've all been involved in comeback games in this league," said player-coach Omid Namazi of the American Conference. "But I don't remember coming from that far behind."
"You're never out of it in NPSL soccer," National coach Gary Hindley of the Toronto Thunderhawks said. "It's bad when it happens to you. The good part is that it's the nature of the game."
"If you're going to lose one like this," said the Nationals' Dino Delevski of the Wichita Wings, "I'm glad it's in an All-Star Game and not in the playoffs."