Ballard FC were crowned USL 2 National Champions on Saturday night, emerging victorious over Lionsbridge FC with a final score of 2-1 after a last-second winner in the 93rd minute. In only their second season as a club, Ballard FC have won it all, eclipsing over 120 teams and winning the league title.
Dubbed “The Battle of the Bridges,” this matchup had a bit of everything: red cards, Sounders legends, a raucous atmosphere, and even a signature sprinkle of Ballard Magic at the death to help etch this Ballard side into the history books.
With pre-planned construction at Interbay, Saturday’s final has to be moved to Starfire Stadium. Despite the further distance, the Ballard faithful showed up strong and the crowd was over twice as big as an Interbay sellout, topping out at 3,400 fans.
It was clear the home-field advantage was a factor early as Ballard FC started the match on the front foot, with Stas Korzeniowksi and Peter Kingston testing the Lionsbridge defense early.
The first of many cards came in the 19th minute as Korzeniowski received a yellow after jostling with the Lionsbridge center-backs. Going into the match, the key battle was Korzeniowksi against the center-back pairing of Kirkwood and Materazzi. It turns out that was never going to be a battle for Korzeniowksi as he turned the backline all night and would get the opener just five minutes later.
After stealing the ball off the feet of Materazzi, Korzeniowski turned him and then roped a shot into the top right corner up and over the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Tyler Hogan to put the hosts up 1-0 in the 24th minute.
Frustrated by being down a score and their lack of possession, Lionsbridge’s physicality began to ramp up. In the 28th minute, Lionsbridge’s Kirkwood received his first yellow for coming through the back of Korzeniowksi. And then just nine minutes later, Kirkwood would be sent off as he earned his second yellow for a challenge on Ballard FC midfield, Declan McGlynn. The Lionsbridge coach would also receive a yellow in what was a chaotic few minutes for center referee Christopher Calderon.
The physicality from the Lionsbridge defense would continue with Materazzi and George Wyatt both receiving yellows right before the halftime break where the hosts would go into the locker room with a one-goal lead.
In the second half, Ballard FC came out hungry for a second goal with Declan McGlynn and Bailey Letherman both missing just narrowly wide. The first 30 minutes of the second half were marked by near misses for the hosts as well as a few Ballard FC yellow cards to stop Lionsbridge counters.
Lionsbridge would find an equalizer in the 80th minute from Josh Baker after he slotted the ball into the bottom left corner after a well-worked long throw-in. Just minutes later, Korzeniowksi would be sent off for his second yellow after a late tackle. The match was now ten against ten with the visitors having all the momentum.
The Ballard crowd rallied around the team and, despite the momentum going the other way, it was actually the hosts who were the most dangerous in the final five minutes of the match. And then, on almost the last kick of the match, Peter Kingston whipped in a free kick from 35 yards out. And just like the CFC match in June, a Kingston free-kick goal sent the crowd into pandemonium and gave Ballard FC the 2023 USL2 Title!
With the last-minute winner and a complete display, Kingston was chosen by the USL2 as the MVP of the final. Saturday was another historic night at historic Starfire Stadium, home of Seattle Sounders US Open Cup matches, SeaWolves Rugby, and now Ballard FC National Championships.
Captain Lesia Thetsane would lead the team in the trophy celebration and the fans and players stayed long after the final whistle to soak in the moment together.
Ballard FC have now clinched the top USL2 US Open Cup spot and will compete in the 2024 edition next spring. More details to come but for now, the team will focus on celebrating their first National Championship.
Photos courtesy of Marissa Lordahl