HUNTSVILLE - Joe Davis Stadium hosted picturesque scenes in North Alabama on Friday night.
Hometown Huntsville City FC made their long-awaited debut in front of their home fans in MLS NEXT Pro Matchday 9 and did it in style with a thrilling comeback win over fellow expansion foe Crown Legacy FC.
Head coach Jack Collison can thank Jonathan Bolanos and Azaad Liadi for bringing the goals needed to overcome an early deficit, and the journey was every bit as rewarding internally as it was to the 5,605 in attendance.
"I'm so pleased for that group of players because they've been working tirelessly day in and day out," Collison told MLSNEXTPro.com. "And they hadn't quite got the reward yet. That was really special to show that resilience and strength of character, to come back and obviously go on and win the game in front of his home crowd, it was really a perfect night."
Stunning Crown Legacy FC has proven to be no easy feat - and in doing so, Huntsville City FC added a chapter in what's looking like a brewing rivalry. There's an obvious natural sense of competition between two expansion sides in any scenario, and these two did battle to usher in their respective MLS NEXT Pro eras just a few weeks ago. During Matchday 1, HCFC spoiled Crown Legacy FC's home opener with a 2-2 tie and took the extra point in the shootout.
The testy tussle sent both sides to opposite ends of the momentum spectrum, as Crown Legacy FC strung together a fierce seven-game winning streak. Collision and his men couldn't catch a break in that same span. Opening the inaugural campaign with seven consecutive road games is challenging enough, going winless on top of that could easily plant seeds of doubt in any team's mentality.
"We spoke a lot about resiliency, being hard-working, and the big one: just sticking together," said Collison. "It's been tough on the road. There have been some dark moments. And as I say fair play to that group of players in there - because they bring it every single day and tonight I'm really pleased because they got their reward. And that feeling at the end, we've asked them to savor it and remember it."
What's more - the win halted Crown Legacy FC from making history in the wrong way in Huntsville. Had the visitors taken full advantage of their early lead, they would have won eight straight, beating a record set by 2022 MLS NEXT Pro Champions Columbus Crew 2.
For now, Huntsville City FC has every right to relish in the first-win feeling. But they can't let the hangover last too long. The possibility of turning the early run of form into a winning season is next on the docket.
A quick turn sees Collison and Co. right back in action on May 26 when they host New York Red Bulls II in the second of a four-game homestand where they need to make up points and climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff contender race.