Wonder strike ... Adam Spaleta. Photo: Marina Neil
Canberra FC demonstrated the strength of men’s soccer in the ACT after giving the NSW champions a run for their money in the inaugural National Premier Leagues play-offs.
An amazing 40-metre strike from classy midfielder Adam Spaleta was not enough to lift Canberra FC past a star-studded Sydney United, going down 2-1 at Edensor Park on Sunday.
The quarter-final defeat eliminated Canberra FC from the knockout competition, which pits the best teams from state leagues against each other.
Canberra FC booked its place courtesy of a record 21st ACT league championship, but went in as a rank underdog against a United outfit boasting several players with A-League experience.
While disappointed, Canberra FC captain Aidan Brunskill said the result proved the gap was closing between the ACT and the top second-tier leagues.
‘‘We showed we can compete with some of the best amateur teams in the country, but it just wasn’t to be today,’’ he said.
‘‘We hit the post, we had opportunities and, to be fair, they didn’t create too much but they had a red card. We were really pushing forward at the end and it felt like it was going to come.’’
Canberra FC was put on the back foot straightaway when former Wellington Phoenix striker Mirjan Pavlovic gave United the lead after just four minutes.
However, the visitors remained composed, and got their rewards when Spaleta latched onto a spectacular strike from an acute angle.
The long-distance shot sailed over the head of former Bradford City and Leicester City custodian Paul Henderson to level the scores at the break.
Adam Bilic put the hosts in front again early in the second half, but a red card to United’s Daniel Barac gave Canberra FC a one-man advantage for the final half-hour.
James Field went within a whisker of delivering the equaliser in the final minute but his powerful shot rebounded off the post, hit Henderson on the back and dribbled wide for a corner.
Making Canberra FC’s performance more impressive was that it came eight days after its heartbreaking 2-0 extra-time loss in the grand final to arch rival Canberra Olympic.
‘‘It took us a little bit to refocus,’’ Brunskill said.
‘‘You couldn’t hide the disappointment at training during the week, but we knew on the day we could lift.’’
SYDNEY UNITED 2 (Mirjan Pavlovic 4’, Adam Bilic 56’) bt CANBERRA FC 1 (Adam Spaleta 28’) at Edensor Park.